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Google Maps is making it easier to see wildfire and tree coverage

Google Maps is making it easier to see wildfire and tree coverage

Google Maps has new features that make it easier for users to see wildfires, tree canopy and places without formal addresses. All of this is aimed at helping communities be "safer, more sustainable and discoverable," according to the company.

A new wildfire layer on Maps will be rolling out globally this week, Google announced today. It will show the largest fires worldwide, prompting evacuations. Red spots and pins on the layer will indicate where the fire is and how far it has spread. By tapping on one of the wildfires, users can view more information, such as the number of acres burned, the percentage of fires contained, and links to local emergency resources.

The map is updated about every hour. It uses data that is collected by satellites which is then processed by Earth Engine, Google's geospatial analysis platform.

It is based on a feature that Google launched in California in 2019 and expanded to the rest of the US in 2020. That pilot allowed people in the US to see the shifting range of wildfires in near real time, but did not allow for users. Seeing more than one fire at a time. This was limited because multiple simultaneous fires in the same area during the fire season are becoming longer and more intense in the western US as a result of climate change.

Google rolled out a new wildfire layer on Maps.
Google is planning to roll out a new wildfire layer on Maps. GIF: Google
Not only U.S. Users will have a bird's eye view of a large fire nearby; They will also be able to see small fires on the map – a feature not yet available in other parts of the world. Google says Australia and some other locations may have the capability "in the coming months".

However, there is still a limit that Google has yet to come out of the layer of wildfire. It can only be updated if the user is connected to the Internet, which creates problems when wildfires take out power lines and cell towers.

The other two updates announced by Google are primarily designed to give local governments better planning and mapping tools. Google launched a Tree Canopy Lab in Los Angeles last year to help the city identify places in need of more trees. Bringing more greenery to areas vulnerable to heat waves is one way to prevent heat-related diseases and deaths. Temperatures can actually vary from neighborhood to neighborhood in how much greenery they have, a trend exacerbated by the history of racial segregation in America.

Google says Tree Canopy will be available in more than 100 cities in 2022, including Guadalajara, London, Sydney and Toronto. It charts the density of tree cover using images taken by aircraft for Google Maps.

Google's new address maker app makes it easy for users to chart routes to places without a formal address.
Google's new address maker app makes it easy for users to chart routes to places without a formal address. GIF: Google
Using Google Maps has always been more challenging for people living in places without a formal address. This has made it more difficult for packages and emergency services such as ambulances to reach many people living in rural areas and developing countries where addresses are not common. So Google today launched a new app called Address Maker, which makes it easier for governments and NGOs to create their own maps to fill in the blanks.

Address Maker is an extension to Google's existing Plus Codes, which allows people to share their location using a six-digit code in lieu of an address. (There are also plus codes for places with traditional addresses. The plus code for Google's headquarters, for example, is 'CWC8+R9 Mountain View, California'.)

While a plus code for places with no address will appear on Google Maps, the route to reach it may not. The purpose of Address Maker is for officials and local advocates to assign plus codes to places and to chart unmapped streets for the entire community. It uses an open-source algorithm, and the plus codes are accessible offline.

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