Microsoft cloud to power environmental big data

Cloud computing can be a powerful tool for scientists and researchers sharing massive amounts of environmental data. At the United Nations climate conference (COP 17) in Durban, South Africa this week, The European Environment Agency, geospatial software company Esri and Microsoft (s msft) showed off the “Eye on Earth” network. The community uses Esri’s cloud services and Microsoft Azure to create an online site and group of services for scientists, researchers and policy makers to upload, share and analyze environmental and geospatial data.

While the Eye on Earth network has been under development since 2008, the group launched three services for different types of environmental data at COP 17, including WaterWatch, which uses the EEA’s water data; AirWatch, which uses the EEA’s air quality data; and NoiseWatch, which combines environmental data with user-generated info from citizens.

Microsoft isn’t the only one working on creating these types of eco big data networks. At last year’s U.N. climate meeting, COP 16, Google launched its own satellite and mapping service called Google Earth Engine(s goog), which combines an open API, a computing platform, and 25 years of satellite imagery available to researchers, scientists, organizations and government agencies. Google Earth Engine offers both tools and parallel processing computing power to groups to be able to use satellite imagery to analyze environmental conditions in order to make sustainability decisions.

If you can’t quite picture how these networks will be used for good, in the case of Google’s Earth Engine, the government of Mexico created the first comprehensive, high-resolution map of Mexico’s forests that incorporated 53,000 Landsat images to produce a 6 GB mapping product. The Mexican government and NGOs can use the map to make decisions about land use, sustainable agriculture, and species protection in combination with a growing population.

Cloud computing and big data analytics will be an increasingly important way to manage a limited number of resources — energy, water, and food — as the world population explodes. There are already 7 billion people on the planet, and there will be 9 billion by 2050. For more info on this, check out our eight ways big data and analytics are already helping manage resources for a booming population.