The stories we shared at the Geo for Good Summit 2019

Google Earth
Oct 4, 2019 · 5 min read

By Raleigh Seamster, Senior Program Manager, Google Earth Outreach

Scientists from NASA. Indigenous community members from the USA, Canada and Aotearoa (New Zealand). Conservationists from Brazil, Malaysia, South Africa and beyond. For a few days in Sunnyvale, about 350 people from diverse cultures and disciplines came together at the Geo for Good Summit 2019. Their projects and passions may have been wildly different, but they arrived here with one goal: to learn more about creating positive change for the planet and its people.

If you weren’t at the Geo for Good Summit sharing your story or learning about telling yours, we hope you’ll join us in 2020. Until the summit rolls around again, take a deeper dive into the summit experience.

How anyone, anywhere can create change

Whether attendees were well past their doctoral studies, or were concerned citizens raising awareness of their people’s connections to the planet, they spent time at the Summit sharpening their skills in using Google Earth, Earth Engine and other tools to communicate complex concepts. The storytelling went beyond words: On the first evening, when Tania Wolfgramm and Wikuki Kingi shared songs and words from Pacific Indigenous communities, we heard (and saw) the reach of these technologies as a tool for sharing cultures along with research — and giving those cultures a voice.

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Learning new skills for a changing planet

As Rebecca Moore, Director of Google Earth, explained in her summit keynote address, understanding the changing planet requires us to create new knowledge. With that knowledge, we can raise awareness of the planet’s most pressing challenges, and drive action to solve those problems.

The good news is that Earth Engine has become an even more powerful tool for creating new knowledge. As Rebecca announced at the summit, Earth Engine is now integrating with Google Cloud’s AI Platform so that users can connect their data to TensorFlow models in real time.

In the summit’s four TensorFlow and machine learning sessions, attendees learned how to make predictions on imagery in Earth Engine, and got a nuts-and-bolts introduction to neural networks. We’re looking forward to seeing how people take advantage of the machine learning best practices that Google experts shared with attendees — hopefully we’ll see these projects in action at next year’s summit.

Skills-building for experts and beginners

There was real excitement at the summit about Rebecca’s announcement, because many people who rely on Earth Engine have been waiting for this integration. But the summit also offered trainings to people outside the traditional remote sensing fields, like the breakout sessions on Earth Engine for non-coders. Whether attendees aspire to be coders or not, they learned how to use Earth Engine to query GIS data sets and get answers.

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Learning happens everywhere at the summit: in breakout sessions, office hours, and the Buildathon, helping people from every community and skill level put Google mapping tools to use. In just under six hours, the Buildathon teams came up with 25 exciting projects for agriculture, disaster mapping, water conservation, culture, and more — for example, creating a map toolbox for humanitarian aid workers, and building classroom resources for Earth Engine in higher education.

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At the summit, we took the Base Camp theme quite literally, answering attendees’ questions about Earth Engine in four comfy tents equipped with blankets, camp tables, and a faux “fire ring” for our campfire conversations.

Giving everyone a voice in Geo projects

We want everyone to feel welcome at the Geo for Good Summit. That’s why we loved stopping by the Ladies of Landsat and Women in Geospatial breakout session during Tuesday’s lunch, where women networked with their peers in GIS and remote sensing. These are fields where women tend to be scarce, although Ladies of Landsat leader Morgan Crowley, a doctoral student in natural resource sciences at McGill University, is hoping to change that.

“We’re really focused on mentoring,” says Crowley. “That’s the way more collaborations can happen. It makes our science better.”

The summit is also about elevating the voices of communities who traditionally have not been able to share their stories — or benefit from tools that can help them improve lives. New to the summit this year was a session with members of the Navajo Nation, who spoke about using plus codes to create addresses in remote areas.

Sharing research and creating connections

We owe a big shoutout to the 33 Summit attendees who were brave enough to boil down their work into two-minute presentations during Lightning Rounds. The presentation from G. Andrew Fricker, assistant social sciences professor at California Polytechnic State University, had a personal angle: His parents’ home was squarely in the path of 2018’s devastating Camp Fire in Paradise, California. Post-fire (from which the house escaped unscathed), Fricker used Earth Engine to map how first responders and fire survivors could rapidly assess damage and predict risk factors based on the fire’s path.

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The lightning-round presenters accomplished more than getting a few minutes on the main stage. By meeting up with other researchers around the world, they made connections to help get their projects closer to the finish line. At one breakfast session, Emil Cherrington, the West Africa Regional Science Coordination Lead for NASA Servir — whose team presented a session on how they use Earth Engine — chatted with presenters about the apps they’d built using Earth Engine. “Their apps are giving us new ideas about what we can do at NASA Servir, and those people told us they were inspired by what we’ve done,” he says.

Storytelling stretches into evening

The summit’s stories stretched beyond meeting rooms and breakout sessions. Each night in the Learning Lobby’s demo stations, attendees shared the mapping applications and storytelling experiences they had developed using Google tools. Then on Tuesday evening, attendees equipped with popcorn took in even more stories at the summit’s Film Festival, watching short videos like “Mapping Virginia’s Slave Dwellings” which highlights how mapping and geo tools create awareness of our shared history and culture.

We hope this taste of the Geo for Good Summit inspires you to join us next year. Check back here on the Earth Medium channel next summer to learn how to attend and share your own stories.

Google Earth and Earth Engine

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