At the International Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen today, Google announced a tool that could be used to track global deforestation. The technology prototype enables observation and measurement of changes in the earth's forests with satellite imagery, scientific analysis and cloud-based computation. According to the Google Blog, emissions from tropical deforestation are comparable to emissions for the entire European Union and greater than combined worldwide transportation. As the Stern Review report's analysis on land use change shows, protecting existing forests is a highly efficient way to cut carbon emissions and mitigate climate change. The United Nations has proposed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries, a framework that would create financial incentives to the rainforest nations, therefore making these forests worth "more alive than dead."

Unfortunately, many of these nations lack the technological resources to monitor and report the state of these forests. Google is proposing a system that hopes to organize scientists, governments and non-profits to do just this.

Satellite imagery data, which the public can already access via Google Earth and Maps, can "provide the foundation for measurement and monitoring of the world's forests."

Scientists can use this monitor to analyze the raw data, determining locations, deforestation measurements, or forest regeneration. The project is collaborating with Greg Asner of Carnegie Institution for Science, and Carlos Souza of Imazon, the Amazon Institute for the People and Environment. Their forest mapping software is used by several organizations in Latin America, but widespread use is hampered by lack of processing power.

This problem is addressed by Google's system, which brings the data and software to the "Google cloud," which not only identifies deforestation, but can potentially do it more quickly, cheaply and securely.

The tools are not publicly available, but are available to scientists and non-profits on the project.