TERN teams up with Google to deliver Australian science to millions worldwide

TERN has again teamed up with Google, this time to make detailed information on Australia’s soil and landscapes available through the Google Earth Engine. As a result researchers can benefit from Google’s cloud computing power, cutting their data processing and analysis times from hours to seconds.

Nationally-consistent and comprehensive soil and landscape information delivered by TERN’s Soil and Landscape Grid of Australia is now available through Google Earth Engine thanks to another collaboration between TERN, CSIRO and Google.

Google’s enormous cloud computing power, combined with more than 40 years of global satellite imagery and tools and methods housed in thousands of computers in Google’s data centres, mean that organisations now have the knowledge and resources they need to visualise and share nationwide soil information using Google Earth and Google Maps.

“Making the Grid accessible via Google Earth Engine means that users can now quickly complete large parallel image processing tasks and use all of the engine’s imagery archive together with Grid information,” says CSIRO’s Agricultural Soil & Landscapes Research Director Mike Grundy.

“For example, calculating Available Water Content across Australia takes a long time on a PC—hours from memory—as it needs to access all depth layers for Clay, Sand, Bulk Density and Organic Carbon data. On Google Earth Engine it takes seconds or less.”

Complex soil and landscape visualisations, such as nationwide Available Water Content (above), previously took hours to process, but thanks to the Soil and Landscape Grid of Australia being available via Google Earth Engine, such calculations can now be done in just seconds 

Jamie Vleeshouwer, also of CSIRO, is part of the team from TERN’s Soil and Landscape Grid facility that worked behind the scenes with Google to make these advancements possible.

“Users no longer have to worry about data preparation or finding storage for terabytes of data, which can be up to 80% of people’s time in projects and be too difficult for personal laptops to handle,” says Jamie.

“Google Earth Engine’s near-real-time processing means that common tasks in the Grid now execute in under a second, with more complicated tasks taking about five seconds.”

“It’s also great for collaboration and communication as scripts and imagery can easily be saved and shared without shipping around too much data.” 

The availability of the Grid via Google Earth Engine is already opening up new doors for collaboration and data applications. For example, Jamie Vleeshouwer and his colleagues at CSIRO are now working with the IrriSAT project to use the Grid to automatically estimate irrigation timing (refill points) for Australian farmers. (More on this exciting development in the TERN eNewsletter soon).

The Grid is not the first TERN delivered product to be made available via Google Earth Engine. Some of TERN’s remotely sensed vegetation monitoring products, including ground cover data, have been available via Google Earth Engine for more than four years. They are enabling land managers to see if vegetation is in a healthy condition or being impacted by things like pests, diseases, fire or feral animals.

Combined with data already freely available via the Grid, the TERN Data Discovery Portal and CSIRO, access via Google Earth Engine provides unprecedented capability in the use of TERN’s environment database for all sorts of agricultural, environmental management, conservation and landscape science projects.

To access the Soil and Landscape Grid of Australia via Google Earth Engine please complete Google’s sign up process here. A dataset catalogue record of the Grid on Google Earth Engine can be openly viewed here.

An example of what’s possible now that the Soil and Landscape Grid of Australia is available via Google Earth Engine: soil attributes to a depth of 2 m together with Landsat 8 satellite derived NDVI and WorldClim Annual Rainfall enables the determination of patterns between soil, vegetation, and climate

Published in TERN newsletter February 2017

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