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March 21st, 2014
Australia’s Contribution to Combating Australian and Pacific Island Sea Level Rise Recognised at White House Climate Data Initiative Launch

At the launch, Google committed to making information such as sea-level rise, storm surges, extreme heat and drought as publicly accessible as driving directions on Google maps. Donating substantial cloud computing and storage resources Google challenged the global community to build an accessible high resolution digital elevation model (DEM) of the entire Earth’s land surface and shallow oceans.

For low-lying coastal communities adapting and building resilience to sea level rise relies upon access to accurate information on elevation, storm surges and coastal inundation. Australia’s contribution in modelling these impacts for our Pacific neighbours has been recognised in a major announcement made by Google.

Googles announcement at the White House showcased the high resolution DEM and visualisation tools developed for Vanuatu by the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRCSI), with partners Geoscience Australia and NGIS Australia on behalf of the Australian Government. This work leveraged the expertise built on the significant investment the Australian Government has made in developing a high resolution LiDAR (laser-based) DEM and visualisation tools covering Australia’s populated coast.

At only a few metres above sea level the main commercial centres of Vanuatu, Port Vila and Luganville are highly vulnerable to flooding from sea level rise, tropical cyclones and storms. The Australian partnership is recognising the importance of protecting communities and key infrastructure, through modelling and mapping the areas at risk of inundation. This was the first time Vanuatu and many other South West Pacific island countries, including Tonga, Samoa and Papua New Guinea had access to detailed information on the impacts of storm surges and sea level rise to help them adapt to current risks and plan for the future.

Google has specifically noted the work of the CRCSI and its partners and invited governments, scientific, research and commercial organisations, to share their data and contribute to the global DEM.

“We welcome Google’s commitment to providing cloud computing and storage resources for a global high- resolution DEM and we look forward to collaborating with organisations worldwide, sharing our experiences and expertise” said Peter Woodgate, CEO CRCSI.

Google’s commitment is significant as airborne LiDAR is considered one of the leading technologies which can effectively map the risks and potential impacts of sea level rise at the required level of accuracy, creating enormous computing challenges. Typically, current airborne LiDAR datasets require more than 2 gigabytes of computer storage for every square kilometre.. With hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of low lying coastal areas, the challenge of acquiring, storing, analysing, disseminated and visualising these data is immense.

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