How we're using AI to help address the climate crisis
Communities around the world are facing the effects of climate change — from devastating floods and wildfires to challenges around food security. As global leaders meet in Egypt for COP27, a key area of focus will be on how we can work together to address the climate change crisis and implement sustainable solutions. At Google, we’re investing in technologies that can help communities prepare for and respond to climate-related disasters and threats.
Tools to alert people and governments about immediate risks
Natural disasters are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change. As part of our Crisis Response efforts, we're working to bring trusted information to people in critical moments to keep them safe and informed. To do so, we rely on the research and development of our AI-powered technologies and longstanding partnerships with frontline emergency workers and organizations. Here’s a look at some of our crisis response efforts and new ways we’re expanding these tools.
- Floods: Catastrophic damage from flooding affects more than 250 million people every year. In 2018, we launched our flood forecasting initiative that uses machine learning models to provide people with detailed alerts. In 2021, we sent 115 million flood alert notifications to 23 million people over Search and Maps, helping save countless lives. Today, we’re expanding our flood forecasts to river basins in 18 additional countries across Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia. We’re also announcing the global launch of the new FloodHub, a platform that displays flood forecasts and shows when and where floods may occur to help people directly at risk and provide critical information to aid organizations and governments. This expansion in geographic coverage is possible thanks to our recent breakthroughs in AI-based flood forecasting models, and we’re committed to expanding to more countries.
The new Google FloodHub at g.co/floodhub shows forecasts for riverine floods. Forecasts are now available in 18 additional countries: Brazil, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Angola, South Sudan, Namibia, Liberia, South Africa.
- Wildfires: Wildfires affect hundreds of thousands of people each year, and are increasing in frequency and size. I experienced firsthand the need for accurate information when wildfires occur and this inspired our crisis response work. We detect wildfire boundaries using new AI models based on satellite imagery and show their real-time location in Search and Maps. Since July, we’ve covered more than 30 big wildfire events in the U.S. and Canada, helping inform people and firefighting teams with over 7 million views in Search and Maps. Today, wildfire detection is now available in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and parts of Australia.
The location of the Pukatawagan fire in Manitoba, Canada.
- Hurricanes: Access to authoritative forecasts and safety information about hurricanes can be life-saving. In the days before a hurricane in North America or a typhoon in Japan, detailed forecasts from authoritative sources appear on SOS Alerts in Search and Maps to show a storm’s predicted trajectory. We're also using machine learning to analyze satellite imagery after disasters and identify which areas need help. When Hurricane Ian hit Florida in September, this technology was deployed in partnership with Google.org grantee GiveDirectly to quickly allocate aid to those most affected.
Managing current and future climate impacts
Climate change poses a threat to our world's natural resources and food security. We’re working with governments, organizations and communities to provide information and technologies to help address these changes.
- Keeping cities greener and healthier: Extreme temperatures and poor air quality are increasingly common in cities and can impact public health. To mitigate this, our Project Green Light uses AI to optimize traffic lights at intersections around the world with the aim to help minimize congestion and related pollution. Project Air View also brings detailed air quality maps to scientists, policymakers and communities. And we’re working to expand our Environmental Insights Explorer’s Tree Canopy Insights tool to hundreds of cities by the end of this year so they can use trees to lower street-level temperatures and improve quality of life.
- Meeting the world’s growing demand for food: Mineral — a project from X, Alphabet’s moonshot factory — is working to build a more sustainable and productive food system. The team is joining diverse data sets in radically new ways — from soil and weather data to drone and satellite images — and using AI to reveal insights never before possible about what’s happening with crops. As part of our Startups For Sustainable Development program, we’re also supporting startups addressing food security. These include startups like OKO, which provides crop insurance to keep farmers in business in case of adverse weather events and has reached tens of thousands of farmers in Mali and Uganda.
- Helping farmers protect their crops: Pest infestations can threaten entire crops and impact the livelihoods of millions. In collaboration with InstaDeep and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, our team at the Google AI Center in Ghana is using AI to better detect locust outbreaks so that it's possible to implement control measures. In India, Google.org Fellows worked with Wadhwani AI to create an AI-powered app that helps identify and treat infestations of pests, resulting in a 20% reduction in pesticide sprays and a 26% increase in profit margins for farmers. Google Cloud is also working with agricultural technology companies to use machine learning and cloud services to improve crop yields.
- Analyzing a changing planet: Using Google Cloud and Google Earth Engine, organizations and businesses can better assess and manage climate risks. For example, the U.S. Forest Service uses these tools to analyze land-cover changes to better respond to new wildfire threats and monitor the impacts of invasive insects, diseases and droughts. Similarly, the Bank of Montreal is integrating climate data — like precipitation trends — into its business strategy and risk management for clients.
AI already plays a critical role in addressing many urgent, climate-related challenges. It is important that we continue to invest in research and raise awareness about why we are doing this work. Google Arts & Culture has collaborated with artists on the Culture meets Climate collection so everyone can explore more perspectives on climate change. And at COP27 we hope to generate more awareness and engage in productive discussions about how to use AI, innovations, and shared data to help global communities address the changing climate.