Google Earth: it's good more than just spying on the neighbors. Google announced today at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen that it has combined Google Earth's satellite imagery and high-speed cloud-based computation to create an online turbocharged satellite imagery-processing engine that detects deforestation in specific areas within seconds.
The prototype system, could, for example, allow users to show forest cover and deforestation over time in Rondonia, Brazil from 1986-2008 in just seconds. This type of computation normally takes days or weeks, but the massive horsepower of Google's data centers makes the information much more quickly. In practical terms, that means police investigators can get to the root of illegal logging activity quickly, and activist groups like Greenpeace could call out logging operations in real-time. The system could also be used in the proposed UN REDD program, which might pay developing countries to cut down on deforestation.
Stay tuned for more information—Google has only released the system to a small set of partners for testing, but we can expect to see it pop up (maybe in Google Labs?) sometime in the next year.