Google Earth Can Help Save the Planet

Travel News — By Candice Walsh on July 13, 2011 at 8:00 am

We already know Google Earth is amazing; the entertainment factor from hilarious street-view snapshots is worth the technology alone. But did you know scientists are actually using Google Earth to study environmental patterns and save the world?

Scientific Reports have released Google Earth images taken from space showing “light blue halos where seaweed has been grazed around coral patches in the Red Sea.” In other words, researchers could observe how marine animals and their predators interact based on the feeding patterns of herbivores.

Why is this important? The light blue halos are known by scientists as “grazing halos,” created by hungry herbivorous fish and sea urchins that are basically eating away at a region of seaweed to get to the substrate beneath it. The herbivores don’t venture far out as to avoid predators, resulting in a game of “cat-and-mouse” between predator and prey.

Image: NASA Goddard Photo and Video/Flickr

But survival of a coral reef ecosystem is based on the fact that there are far more predators than prey which is the reverse of how most ecosystems work. This helps keep the prey from eating everything in sight. The grazing halos indicate the importance between large shark populations and the health of coral reefs, showing why bans on shark fishing are so important.

And since this behaviour can be watched from space, the same technology can be applied elsewhere to observe predator and prey impacts on other ecosystems, like forests. Some groups are even using Google Earth for more good environmental causes, like the animations used by WWF-Indonesia and David Tryse to prove how major logging companies are putting wildlife at risk in the rainforest of the Bukit Tigapuluh landscape in Sumatra. It’s the only place in the world where you’ll find Sumatran tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans…all of whom are critically endangered. It’s WWF-Indonesia’s hope to prevent these species from being wiped out entirely.

A more noble use than just spying on your neighbours, we think.

Tags: Google Earth, Google Street View, grazing halos

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