Kilic partners with Google on climate initiative

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Mekita Rivas | Natural Resources
Ayse Kilic, associate professor, is part of a national initiative that will use Google resources to gauge water use by vegetation.

Ayse Kilic is part of the new U.S. Climate Data Initiative, a project that is using Google resources and national researchers to create tools to help provide real-time information on water consumption by vegetation around the globe.

The partnership, announced by the White House in March, includes UNL, Google, University of Idaho and the Nevada-based Desert Research Institute.

For Kilic, associate professor with UNL’s Department of Civil Engineering and the School of Natural Resources, the partnership means a toolbox overflowing with resources — and she’s eager to connect the public with the partnership’s benefits.

Kilic produces advanced high-resolution models for water use mapping and water resources management and is a leading contributor in the partnership. The maps will support water conservation and be a key factor in developing drought monitoring inside Google Earth Engine for the continental United States. She will be building on her group’s experiences from applications along the Platte River of Nebraska.

Google is providing one petabyte of cloud storage to house satellite observations, digital elevation data and climate and weather model datasets drawn from government open data and contributed by scientists. Fifty million hours of high performance cloud computing on the Google Earth Engine geospatial analysis platform will also be provided.

“It is exciting to work with the new technology of Google Earth Engine because it handles so much information about our planet,” Kilic said. “Google Earth Engine is a water resources engineer’s dream. The computer screen shows real-time water use information in just a few seconds, using the Google Computing Cloud. These processes once took hours on (even high-powered) computers.”

Kilic’s work focuses on evapotranspiration, or how water moves through the atmosphere as it evaporates from soil and water and transpires from plants. In 2013, she began a five-year term with an elite international team of 25 scientists supporting NASA's Landsat Data Continuity Mission Satellite or "Landsat 8."

She said Google has collected the entire modern Landsat archive’s images of the planet, dating to 1984, which is “a tremendous and convenient resource for our application.”

“Landsat satellite imagery provides us with 30 meter pixels that allow us to see inside individual agricultural fields,” Kilic said. “The thermal band of Landsat is especially important. We will need even more Landsat satellites in the future for modern water management.”

Other members of Kilic's UNL team include Baburao Kamble, research assistant professor; Ian Ratcliffe, a remote sensing specialist with the survey division of the School of Natural Resources; and Doruk Ozturk and Yao Ki, graduate students. The team is developing code, designing new ways to detect and contend with clouds in images and using evapotranspiration mapping to fine-tune regional weather forecasting models.

Kilic said a new project with her group will use Google resources to generate applications providing lawn water management information to homeowners and cities to support water conservation.

“This project will utilize high-resolution aerial photography available for much of the United States and couple it with continental weather data sets for the entire country plus seven-day weather forecasts to provide homeowners with up-to-date information on their watering needs,” Kilic said. “(Our research) creates opportunities for educators to have extensive sets of spatial data in their classrooms to use for geographic information system instruction, remote sensing, water resources and hydrology — for college students all the way down to elementary school students.”

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