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SGI harnesses power of Google datacenter to provide accessibility for data

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

With abundant information about water, restoration, projects and more, Brady Allred says, “The goals of all of our work is to actually put it on the ground, make it work and implement it.” 

“Another goal is to follow those conservation projects through time to see if they’re successful, see if they’re working and see if they do what we want to do,” Allred says. 

Allred, who works with the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI), overviews how Google has created a platform called Google Earth Engine, which provides a planetary platform for earth observation analysis.

“Basically, Google Earth Engine is millions of processors that can be used to analyze any type of remotely sensed imagery,” Allred says. “We’ve been partnering with Google to utilize these services to do a lot of research projects that can inform and help management of conservation efforts but also to build spatial targeting tools and evaluate outcomes.”


One particular project utilizing the engine is mapping annual U.S. rangeland cover from 1984 to 2017. 

The study looks at annual forbs and grasses, perennial forms and grasses and shrubs, as well as their continuous cover. 

“The service allows us to merge all this data to see a landscape point of view,” Allred said. “Another thing we can do with this tool is track changes in plant functional groups through time. All of this is possible because of the processing power that we’re leveraging.” 

Online application

Because of Google’s unique ability to translate information on services to online platforms, Allred says SGI has developed a web application at that allows Google maps interface to be overlaid with data from SGI. 

“Many of our projects are spatially oriented and can be used in projects,” Allred explains. 

The application allows users to turn on and off a number of layers from datasets in SGI’s database. Both wildlife and ecosystem layers are available. Additionally, datasets can be overlapped with satellite imagery to provide an on-the-ground overview of that dataset in a specific area. 

“Immediately, using these tools, we can draw our eyes as to where to target future work and where we might have the most success,” Allred says. “For the practitioner, people can go in and use these tools to help them decide if a particular area might provide opportunities for a project or if efforts should be targeted elsewhere.” 

“These resources are all publically available,” Allred comments.

Continuing to grow

Additionally, harnessing the power of Google, Allred explains he is able to easily update the resource without cumbersome effort. 

“I was able to update the map for 2017 in less than two hours because of the computational power offered to us by Google,” he says.

An additional capacity of the tool is found through the ability of individuals to upload their own data to be integrated into the resource.

“By using custom analysis, users can tailor the data to what they are looking for,” Allred comments. “When we do this, the application goes out to our services and brings back the information.”

Users can also upload their own shapefiles to the database, and Google is able to aggregate the data relevant to that region and provide the data, overlaid with a region.

“The local knowledge is still important,” Allred adds. “These big, broad scale analyses aren’t recommendations for anything, but instead, they are tools for practitioners to go in and see the history of an area. We want to empower people with data to make decisions.”

On the ground

“We can use this tool to see if practices are working or if things we’re doing on the ground are working,” Allred comments. “Now, we can look at this progress on the web on our own. We don’t have to reach out to agencies and scientists to see if what they’re doing is working.”

Moving into the future, Allred notes SGI plans to develop more web applications where users can provide data and get a customized result for their projects. 

He continues, “The computational power and storage available has finally caught up to our ideas, so we can see the result of our work immediately.”

Allred presented this technology at during the Society for Range Management’s Annual Meeting in Sparks, Nev. on Jan. 30. Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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