Collect Earth Online (CEO) brings science to non-specialists by providing a free, open-source, intuitive platform for interpreting satellite imagery and answering environmentally critical questions regarding land cover, land use, forestry, and agriculture. CEO has attracted a dedicated global community of users who rely on the platform to drive high-impact work monitoring deforestation and other types of land use change. Initially developed by SERVIR—a joint venture of the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)—CEO is now supported by a broad base of partners.
CEO marks a new approach to data collection. For any Earth observation inventory or mapping effort, gathering reference data is essential. Relying on local experts to interpret satellite imagery offers a cost-effective way to calibrate data and assess map accuracy, eliminating the need for time-consuming data collection in the field. However, creating a way for local experts to do such work has proved challenging.
A key predecessor of CEO is Collect Earth, desktop software developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Like CEO, Collect Earth enables users with limited background in remote sensing to conduct sophisticated land assessments. However, Collect Earth is is limited by the need for software installation and updating, and requires more complex data management systems due to its implementation using local data storage.
Collect Earth Online removes these obstacles. Because it runs on Google Cloud, users don’t need to worry about desktop installation or data backups, freeing them up to concentrate on research and applications. Users can collect data using high-resolution satellite imagery—including basemaps from Planet, available courtesy of Norway’s International Climate & Forests Initiative (NICFI)—and analyze it with the powerful computing resources of Google Earth Engine. Multiple users can collect information simultaneously, and cloud storage removes the need to manually merge the data they collect. As a result, users can quickly and efficiently gather the data they need. Countries can, for example, easily calculate the degree of land use change and associated greenhouse gas emissions within their borders, information that can then be reported in their regular Nationally Determined Contributions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
A user survey revealed a worldwide user base, working at NGOs and government agencies in more than 50 countries, who use CEO to understand what’s happening on the ground, develop compelling reports, and promote effective policy. For example:
CEO has received financial support from NASA, USAID, SERVIR, FAO, the U.S. Forest Service, SilvaCarbon, Google, and Spatial Informatics Group. It was co-developed as an online tool housed within the OpenForis Initiative of FAO. The code is available under an MIT license on GitHub. A community of developers from these organizations collaborate to provide support and maintenance, as well as to develop new features.