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  • Imma Oliveras

google earth engine summit 2018



Last week I attended the Google Earth Engine User Summit in Dublin. This was my first summit, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from it. I have been using Earth Engine (EE) for about a year, first for teaching purposes and I am now increasingly using it to my own research. The learning pathway can be a steep one because it uses Javascript and Python programming languages, and the data processing rationale is different from traditional remote sensing processing software.

Earth Engine is a cloud technology platform that puts an unprecedented amount of satellite data online. The Summit started with an inspiring plenary talk by Rebecca Moore, director of Google Earth Engine (video above). Rebecca explained how Google Earth Engine started, its mission and goals, and how started to gather years and millions of Tb of data – for examples, they have been able to make available in the cloud more than 6M Landsat images corresponding to over 46 years of data.

The Summit counted with ca. 200 delegates from all over the world and ca. 20 Google Developers. Delegates attend to the Summit for free (except travelling and accommodation costs) after being selected from an application process (therefore, if you wish to attend if forthcoming years, applications usually open in early March – follow Google Earth to be up to date with announcements).

During three full days, we were in Google Dublin’s campus for 12 hours, starting by a generous breakfast at 8 am and ending with a very well served dinner (accompanied by an extensive variety of drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) from 6-8 pm. Food was also available in different places throughout the day.

Apart from the shiny particularities of being at Google (such as seeing your name on the stairs that led to the common room), the novelty for me was that, unlike academic workshops, the sessions were predominantly practical, and covered a wide range of expertise levels. If you had never used Earth Engine before, there were a series of hand-out sessions that would work you through the first nuances of working with the API, Javascript language and of writing up your first codes. On the other hand, if you are an advanced user, the Summit is the platform where the latest advances are presented (Tensor flow, new methods for image classification, EE Apps, for example). It is therefore an exciting environment where learning is assured. What makes it different is that it is learning oriented, and absolutely collaborative oriented. What makes it great is that it is a diverse environment full of people excited about a common objective: earth engine. Materials from the summit are available here.

EE offers an unprecedented opportunity to process massive amounts of imagery in a fast a reliable manner. It further provides algorithms tailored for the scientific community, and a fascinating collaborative environment. Google guaranteed to keep it open source and available to the scientific community. Certainly we have now a new ground-breaking tool that it is already revolutionizing the remote sensing analyses sphere and will hopefully be widely available to the scientific community. This could be an excellent opportunity for answering pressing questions in research areas spanning from medicine to environmental change, and for fostering a powerful online collaboration tool for remote sensing-based analyses.

I would really encourage everyone, but specially graduate students to learn EE and engage with this community.


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