Cloud Feedbacks: Microsoft and Google Track Climate with Big Data

March 21, 2014

Engadget: is getting a whole lot greener thanks to its new section dedicated to climate information. The new channel is the product of President Obama’s Climate Data Initiative (PDF), and pulls information that can help predict the effects of climate change and prevent any damage that may result. The raw data comes from the likes of the Department of Defense, NASA and the US Geological Society, but probably isn’t easy to grok for the average person. To help with that, Google and Microsoft have stepped in. Mountain View is donating 50 million hours of its Earth Engine’s computing power — the Global Forest Watch’s backbone — and is partnering with academics in the western US to produce a near real-time drought map and monitoring system.

Redmond, on the other hand, has developed a tool (dubbed FetchClimate) that can both recall historical climate data and forecast future weather trends based on the stockpiles of information stored in Microsoft’s Azure back-end. For example, the software giant says that this could allow state planners to predict extreme rainfall, preventing flood damage to infrastructure and transit lines as a result. These are still early days for the Initiative, but, as times goes on, more applications using its wealth of info will surely surface. For now, though, it’s nice to see tech companies exploit government data instead of the other way around.


WASHINGTON — President Obama wants Americans to see how climate change could deluge or destroy their own backyards — and to make it as easy as opening a web-based app.

As part of an effort to make the public see global warming as a tangible and immediate problem, the White House on Wednesday inaugurated a website,, aimed at turning scientific data about projected droughts and wildfires and the rise in sea levels into eye-catching digital presentations that can be mapped using simple software apps.

The project is the brainchild of Mr. Obama’s counselor, John D. Podesta, and the White House science adviser, John P. Holdren.

The effort comes as Mr. Obama prepares to announce a set of aggressive climate change regulations aimed at limiting emissions from coal-fired plants. Although a poll by the Pew Research Center last October found that 67 percent of Americans believe that global warming is happening, a Pew poll in January showed that Americans ranked global warming as 19th on a list of 20 issues for Congress and the president.

Mr. Podesta has taken on the uphill task of building a political case for the climate rules, both by defusing the opposition and by trying to create an urgent sense among Americans that they are necessary. The website is the latest step in that strategy.

“Localizing this information gives a sense of how this affects people and spurs action,” Mr. Podesta told a small group of reporters at the White House on Wednesday. “If you’re thinking about this from the perspective of how your local community will be affected, it’s likely to change that question of salience.”


Google plans to create high-resolution drought mapping for the mainland United States as part of a White House effort — to be unveiled Wednesday—to give communities more data so they can prepare for climate change.

Google, one of several corporate participants, will also use federal databases to build what it says will be the first hi-res terrain map of the planet to show how sea levels and other climate-related changes are occurring. It’s donating one petabyte — or one billion megabytes — of cloud storage for the endeavor.

“We can help make sense out of vast amounts of data,” says Rebecca Moore, engineering manager of Google Earth Engine & Earth Outreach. She says the U.S. government collects a “tremendous amount” of valuable satellite data, but much of it is stored on tape and not released. She says Google aims to help people prepare for extreme heat, drought, sea level rise and flooding “as easily as they use Google maps to get driving directions,”

The Obama administration is tapping the expertise and reach of more than a dozen U.S. companies, universities and private groups, as well as the World Bank, for its “Climate Data Initiative,” which is part of the president’s broader plan to fight climate change.

Beginning Wednesday, a new weblink — — will be the central site for U.S. government data on climate change, focusing initially on coastal flooding and sea level rise and then expanding to look at health, energy infrastructure and food supply. It will include data not previously released that map hundreds of thousands of U.S. bridges, roads, railroad tunnels, canals and river gauges.

4 Responses to “Cloud Feedbacks: Microsoft and Google Track Climate with Big Data”

  1. I’d like to point to a fantastic tool that supports Google Earth here:

    A very nice way of getting an overview of the state of the planet.

  2. astrostevo Says:

    Not sure if you’ve already mentioned this already or not but there’s also a new satellite launched by NASA to study the water cycle and rainfall events recently – the GPM – Global Precipitation Measuremnt space /earth observatory launched the 28th of Feb. this year – see via full name on wikipedia NASA site here :

  3. […] 2014/03/21: PSinclair: Cloud Feedbacks: Microsoft and Google Track Climate with Big Data […]

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