May 2019
Welcome to the third edition of our newsletter highlighting innovation and frontier technologies around the globe. At MapX, we believe that nobody should be left behind in the digital revolution. Join us monthly to learn about new global initiatives harnessing technology for the sustainable use of natural resources, citizen science opportunities, upcoming webinars or trainings, and open source solutions. If you have stories you want to share, contact us here.

Thought of the month

Humans are driving one million species to extinction
Based on thousands of scientific studies, a new United Nations-backed report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) finds that nearly one million species risk becoming extinct within decades, while current efforts to conserve the earth’s resources will likely fail without radical action. This landmark report has the world talking about the decline of Earth’s life-support systems and wondering what can be done to halt the steady degradation of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Although our planet already has specially designed ecosystems to heal itself, there is an urgent need to define how to rapidly identify where the areas of highest concern are, and where the greatest opportunities for restoration lie.

Seeking for an answer to global water challenges, UNDP reached out to Earth imaging company Planet for visuals that reveal the scale of the peril and highlight nature-based solutions regarding forests and trees, which are our strongest allies in securing the freshwater resources life depends on. The satellite images capture the mist that helps to form rain, and the images are used by UNDP and UN partners to preserve the world’s largest rainforests including the Amazon, the Congo Rainforest, and the forest of Papua New Guinea. To speed things up, UNDP also partnered with DJI, a leading drone company from China, for a drones for social good project, that could help scientists and conservationists create 3D maps of an entire island in the Maldives in a single day.
A satellite image shows a forest along the Indonesian coastline. Courtesy of Planet Labs, Inc.
Human innovations are critical to addressing big environmental challenges in time to save the planet’s resources. A key component of innovation is the formation of strong public-private partnerships like in the above cases, which can accelerate environmental programs and move us closer towards shared goals of saving nature and mitigating the risk of species extinction.  It is time for us to think outside of the box - and move swiftly - to recover a sustainable future.
Case Study

AI for Earth: AI could be a critical tool to help save the planet

Believing that artificial intelligence (AI) could be a game changer in helping save the planet, Microsoft wants to make accessing powerful AI and machine learning technology more practical for scientists and environmental researchers. In 2017, Microsoft announced that they were broadening their AI for Earth program with an expanded strategic plan and committing $50 million over the next five years. In the mere two years since then, this program has awarded over 260 grants to projects with impact in over 63 countries, focused on four key areas critical to the livelihood of the planet -  climate change, agriculture, biodiversity, and waters.

Depending on project need, the grants can award  Microsoft Azure cloud computing resources (including AI tools) and / or data labeling services, which help get large datasets ready for AI processing. Grantees not only have access to software and research tools, but they’re also able to share research models and datasets through the Microsoft cloud and across devices, which enables collaboration with other researchers and citizen scientists to advance sustainability solutions. Read more here.

News / Highlights

Facebook AI researchers want to map Earth's population using computer vision and satellite imagery

Facebook AI researchers recently published a new and more accurate version of population heat maps of countries in various parts of the world. Researchers use computer vision in combination with DigitalGlobe satellite imagery and public census data to determine the approximate population of a given area based on the number of human-made structures. No Facebook data has been or will be used in the project, and census and satellite data used contain no personally identifiable information. Facebook also worked with the World Bank to verify the accuracy of its results. All the maps are made available to non-governmental organizations, as well as government agencies through Facebook’s page on the United Nations’ Humanitarian Data Exchange to ensure they can accurately locate rural communities and account for humanitarian aid needs in a disaster. Read details here on how they have approached this project.

Viewing coral reefs from above reveals much about their health and structure. Repeated observations through time can be used to track change. Regional-scale reef mapping is a key precursor for conservation of this imperiled ecosystem.
(Credit: Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation)

Largest collection of coral reef maps ever made

The journal Coral Reefs recently published a study describing a first-ever global coral reef atlas that contains maps of over 65,000 square kilometers (25,097 square miles) of coral reefs and surrounding habitats. The maps are the result of a 10-year Global Reef Expedition by scientists for the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, traveling to over 1,000 remote coral reefs in 15 countries to map and survey the reefs down to a one-square meter scale. Using data collected from satellite imagery and field observation, scientists have extrapolated that information to develop a new model that could accurately map coral reef and other tropical shallow-water marine habitats. The maps can be found in an online database called the World Reef Map where viewers can pop into the reefs from Fiji to Seychelles. In some locations, the map offers some actual underwater footage of what the reefs look like.

Comparison of a Google Earth image with the TanDEM-X forest map for a region in southern Germany. Individual rows of trees at the edges of fields can be clearly distinguished in the image, demonstrating the degree of detail offered by the forest map.

Global TanDEM-X forest map is available
Assessing and monitoring forest resources is a key task for current and future radar satellite missions. As the view from space reveals, forests cover about one third of Earth’s landmass today. However, more than half of the world’s forests have already been lost due to deforestation. The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) has created a special dataset to monitor, assess, and protect the current state and development of this green organ with precision - the global TanDEM-X Forest/Non-Forest Map. Using radar satellite data and  artificial intelligence algorithms that were developed for global data processing, this global map shows the extent of forested areas at a resolution of 50 meters, optimized for different types of forests based on tree height, density, and structure. The map is now available free of charge to scientific users. Learn more about it here.

Scientific Corner 

Source: UNEP-WCMC and IUCN. 2018. Protected Planet: The World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA), July 2018 version, Cambridge, UK: UNEP-WCMC and IUCN.

Sixty years of tracking conservation progress using the World Database on Protected Areas

Published in Nature Ecology & Evolution | Vol 3 | May 2019 | 737-743
 by Heather C. Bingham, Diego Juffe Bignoli, Edward Lewis, Brian MacSharry, Neil D. Burgess, Piero Visconti, Marine Deguignet, Murielle Misrachi, Matt Walpole, Jessica L. Stewart, Thomas M. Brooks and Naomi Kingston
The World Database on Protected Area (WDPA), a joint project between UN Environment and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and managed by UNEP-WCMC, now holds information on nearly a quarter of a million protected areas (245,449, to be precise). A new paper published on Nature Ecology & Evolution this month delves into some of the ways that the WDPA has affected decision-making around the world, including being used to measure progress towards internationally-agreed targets such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, as well as informing the development of new ones in the run-up to 2020.
In November 2018, the WDPA’s online platform, Protected Planet, partnered with National Geographic Society and IUCN to launch Protected Planet Live, an interactive interface that includes information on the status of the global protected areas estate, critical for understanding not just where protected areas are, but whether they are well-connected, representative of biodiversity, and effectively- and equitably-managed.


Earth Observation - Disruptive Technology and New Space
This is a short MOOC from European Space Agency, which consists of a series of interviews with leading experts across Earth Observation and related technologies. This MOOC also acts as an additional section for the 'Earth Observation from Space: The Optical View' MOOC.

The explosion in Earth Observation (EO) data from the Sentinel programme, a new generation of commercial satellites, and emerging constellations of small-sats, has created one of the greatest ‘big data’ challenges in the world today. In this course you will explore technologies such as AI, 3D data visualisation, cloud computing technologies and blockchain, and learn how they are meeting the needs of the ever growing data analytics and data navigation challenges in EO.

Enroll Now
Massive Open Online Course on Marine Litter
UN Environment, in cooperation with the Open University of the Netherlands, has launched the 3rd free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Marine Litter. The MOOC has been created in order to stimulate leadership and offers opportunities for actionable and change oriented learning related to marine litter within the framework of the Global Partnership on Marine Litter. The MOOC will be disseminated through the Global Universities Partnership on Environment and Sustainability (GUPES) which currently comprises of over 520 universities globally.

The MOOC has started on April 29, 2019 with the 2-week Leadership Track available in English, French, Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Spanish and Portuguese. Participants who wish to remain in the course will continue to the Expert Track, which will be completed by August 2019 (total of 8 weeks), this track will be available in English and Spanish.
Enroll Now


Call for Code 2019 Global Challenge is now accepting applications

IBM is now opening the Call for Code 2019, a worldwide developer competition that seeks solutions for natural disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. Over 100,000 developers from 156 nations competed in the challenge last year and built over 2,500 applications with IBM Cloud technology to reduce the impact of natural disasters.

Now they're calling for innovative solutions for this year. Join the community to access a number of learning materials, including IoT, ML, Blockchain as well as disaster response and healthcare. The winning team will receive $200,000 USD support from The Linux Foundation, implementation through Code and Response, and more. Competition ends on July 29th, 2019.  

Apply Now

Where can you find MapX next?

In Geneva, Switzerland.Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction light their opportunity mapping, an innovative tool that identifies suitable areas for ecosystem protection and restoration to reduce disaster risk. Come to their booth at the will highPartnership on Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction (PEDRR)From May 15-17, 2019, our colleagues from the
The booth will be officially launched on Wednesday, May 15th at 2 pm, when Pascal Peduzzi and Karen Sudmeier-Rieux will deliver a presentation featuring a MapX story map to explore the opportunity mapping data.
What is MapX?

Data has become the world’s most valuable and powerful resource. MapX supports the sustainable use of natural resources by increasing access to the best available geospatial data, technology, and monitoring tools. Backed by the impartiality and integrity of the UN, MapX is the first non-commercial platform that can power a variety of applications and websites with the best available environmental data as part of a global public good. MapX was developed by UN Environment and GRID-Geneva in partnership with the World Bank and UNDP.

We look forward to bringing you the best updates of 2019!

UN Environment
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Newsletter writer: Yalun Jin
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Copyright © 2019 UN Environment Crisis Management Branch, All rights reserved.

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