Google Earth Engine Training Workshop Gives Exposure to Professionals and Students in Mapping Our Rapidly Changing World

13 Apr 2018

Google Earth Engine (GEE) is a cloud-computing platform used for powerful remote sensing analysis across space and time. It can be used for large- and small-scale scientific analysis and visualization of geospatial datasets to store, organize, and access satellite images and geospatial datasets. In addition to the tools and cloud computational powers necessary to analyse large datasets, the GEE platform also offers Application Programme Interfaces (APIs) in JavaScript and Python.

SERVIR Hindu Kush Himalaya (SERVIR–HKH) initiative at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is currently developing a number of applications on GEE, which are being used by scientists, researchers, governments, and non-profits to quantify environmental changes. Recently, SERVIR-HKH welcomed 47 participants to a five-day GEE training workshop to gain an overview of earth observation technology. A range of participants – geospatial information technology (GIS) professionals, government officers, researchers, and academics – were selected after an open application process.

Mehwish Ali, from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Pakistan, said that she “found the workshop extremely well-designed, with practical hands-on sessions.” Ali added: “The sessions, in particular the introduction to Google Earth engines and insights about using image and image functions, were extremely useful for me.”

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Mehwish Ali from Pakistan presenting during the workshop. Ali is currently leading and managing GIS activities and projects for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Pakistan.

The participants learnt to write scripts using GEE’s JavaScript Application Programme Interfaces (APIs), including digital image processing and geospatial analysis, ranging from basic to intermediate levels to complete a series of real-world environmental remote sensing projects. The training also covered advanced topics such as mapping vegetation, land use, and land cover.

“The training provided me with an opportunity to better understand GEE and how it works. I’m motivated to integrate it to monitor and map land use changes and impacts of climate change on our forest ecosystems,” said Shankar Adhikari, Forest Officer at the Department of Forest (DoF).

GEE is a powerful tool to process, analyse, and store vast amount of data from multiple sensors and sources. Bhoj Raj Ghimire, a GIS Analyst at ICIMOD, said he deals with a lot of historic data and that GEE would save a lot of pre-processing and processing time as well as hard disk space.

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Man Bahadur Kshetri, a GIS analyst at the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

Man Bahadur Kshetri is responsible for analysing natural hazards impact immediately after a disaster to estimate the assistance required for relief efforts. As a GIS Analyst at the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Nepal, he is responsible for identifying affected areas and informing decision makers for humanitarian assistance. Kshetri said: “I found GEE to be the next generation of GIS/RS software, as it enables us to freely access geospatial data, especially remote sensing images of the world in one place.” Kshetri wants to use the GEE platform to process collections of images in the cloud to conduct geospatial analysis on in-season crop growth condition, impact of drought, and flood inundation.

The training also provided an opportunity for environmental science postgraduate students stepping into professional life. “Knowing GEE allows us to answer complex research questions. I have not yet had a chance to use GEE but I’m really keen to put my learnings to analyse the precipitation pattern, slope, and many other factor that triggers landslides in Nepal,” said Kripa Shrestha, who is currently working on her final dissertation for her postgraduate degree at Tribhuvan University.

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The training was useful for environmental science post graduate students.

Kribina Pathak shared her excitement at experiencing a new technology. “Google Earth Engine is magical in mapping our rapidly changing world. The training will help me implement GEE in my research work on water resources in the Himalayas,” she said.

During the workshop, participants identified projects and worked in teams with ICIMOD resource persons to fine tune their applications. They presented an exciting array of applications. Last year, SERVIR-HKH conducted two successive training workshop on GEE in Nepal and Bangladesh.

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47 participants, 21 of them women, attended a five-day training workshop on the Google Earth Engine platform. The event was organized by ICIMOD’s SERVIR–HKH initiative at ICIMOD headquarters in Kathmandu from 9 to13 April 2018.