Sense, Predict, Act

PSI unveils Tropical Forest ALERTS 1.0 (beta) platform for monitoring global land change

Dec 06 2010
The Planetary Skin Institute today unveiled the beta version of its Tropical Forest ALERTS 1.0 platform for monitoring global land change at the 16th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. This is Planetary Skin Institute's first of a series of global public good platforms planned. Global land use change and deforestation are major issues at the climate negotiations because deforestation and degradation is responsible for up to 15% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. However, while governments are trying to develop policies and incentives to stop deforestation, many countries lack monitoring ALERTS stands for the Automated Land change Evaluation, Reporting and Tracking System. It is an online cloud-based platform for near real-time global land change detection, and is available at no cost as a global public good to members of the public at Targeted at national land use managers, conservation organizations, forest policymakers and scientific communities, it provides timely detection of land change events on a global basis as recently as 8 weeks after they occur with a high degree of accuracy. The ALERTS platform provides visualization, layering, and customization tools for identifying and characterizing land use change. Users can view changes in space and time on the ALERTS geospatial platform, and subscribe to personalized alerts that will notify them via email whenever land use changes are detected in geographical areas of interest. They can also use the ALERTS platform to view land use changes alongside other important environmental and geographical data, such as precipitation, boundaries of protected areas, and levels of deforestation risk. The Government of Peru has stepped forward as an early adopter of Tropical Forest ALERTS 1.0 to provide near real time monitoring of 54 million hectares of forests as part of the President of Peru's commitment to the UN General Assembly in September 2010. Peru's Ministry of Environment, or MINAM, has partnered with the Planetary Skin Institute and other leading international institutions to co-develop important scientific and technical capabilities complementing and augmenting the capabilities of their own world-class Geoservidor program. The ALERTS platform represents the product of an intensive multi-year R&D collaboration across nations, across organizations/ sectors, and across disciplines. Research and Development partners include Planetary Skin Institute world class partners NASA, the Brazilian National Space Research Institute (INPE) Centre of Earth Systems Research, the University of Minnesota Computer Science Department, Peru's Ministry of Environment (MINAM), the Terrestrial Carbon Group and Cisco Systems.


Dr Antonio Brack Egg, Minister of Environment, Government of Peru. "The Peruvian Government's Ministry of Environment recognizes the critical importance and itself uses world-class space earth observation and geospatial platforms to understand a number of cross-cutting environmental issues and its relationship to land use change in Peru's territory through its GEOSERVIDOR platform. That is why we are now integrating the geospatial analytic platform ALERTS, given that it will allow the Peruvian Government and its citizens to monitor land cover and vegetation changes across Peru at an appropriate spatial resolution and in near real time including detection of fires, other land changes and in estimating a baseline for carbon pools, amongst others; which will allow us to have greater insight to analyze with a greater precision the changes and resulting trends. As a result, we will have an integrated decision support platform that will allow us to develop sustainable development plans and will allow us to manage our natural resources in an integrated manner and the associated risks to mention but some of the benefits". Professor Lord Nicholas Stern, London School of Economics. "Launched after only one year of operations, Planetary Skin Institute's ALERTS platform will allow for better understanding on where and how emissions arise associated to land use change by providing careful, reliable and impartial information on the land change events and thus of the environmental risks more generally. This is vital to effective policy on climate change. And it is crucial to building the international trust and collaboration that must underpin global and regional action on climate change. It is fundamental to the formation of public and private strategies on risk management across the world and for the private investment decisions that must drive the new low-carbon economy. That is why the Planetary Skin Institute's first global public good is so important." Dr. Carlos Nobre, Director of Brazil's INPE Centre of Earth Systems Research. "Technological and scientific advances will be needed in order to tackle deforestation and climate change, and information technology has a special role to play. Greater collaboration between all types of stakeholders across sectors and nations as those catalysed by the Planetary Skin Institute will be needed to create innovative solutions for global problems. ALERTS immediately creates transparency on a global scale and provides tools to help citizens and governments work together to manage land use change." Dr. Charlie Kennel, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science, Scripps Institution of Oceanography "ALERTS shows what a globally distributed consortium of climate scientists, ecologists, economists, and a major information technology company can do in a very short time when the need is clear and the time is right. Soon, the ALERTS collaboration will include the user community, which will drive further innovation into the system. I hope that this approach will soon be extended to other issues, of which the most pressing may be adaptation to the regional and local impacts of climate change on water, agriculture, and food security." Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, Imperial College of Technology. "Detailed and up-to-date information on what is being done to the land surface is crucial for action on deforestation and other aspects of land use change. I warmly welcome this first major development of the Planetary Skin Institute, and look forward to Imperial's involvement in other important developments under its umbrella" Dr. Gerald Nelson, Senior Research Fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute. "The launch of the ALERTS platform marks an important transition for the Planetary Skin Institute, from an exciting concept to a nascent public good of potentially unprecedented value for society. The need for fusion of information from many sources in an intelligent way that adds value and puts it in the hands of the public has never been more urgent. And the rapid decline in the cost of information technology makes this an opportune moment for PSI to release its initial platform. We at IFPRI look forward to working with PSI in the development of the agri-food, land and water skins." Dr. Steve Howard, CEO of The Climate Group. "The Planetary Skin Institute's first initiative is an international R&D collaboration to tackle the complexity around land change use and its near real time monitoring of tropical forests. This should help communities and governments take measurable action to address REDD+. It is the PSI's exciting first step on its promise of delivering a global public good." Juan Carlos Castilla-Rubio, President, Planetary Skin Institute. "In many countries, forest status is only infrequently monitored for land change, which means that the world's decision-makers are flying blind when it comes to assessing deforestation, degradation and other land change events. It's simply not possible to establish a reliable global mechanism for reducing deforestation without information about when and where it is taking place. Our hope is that ALERTS will provide them with some of the information required to solve this national, regional and global challenge." Professor Vipin Kumar, chairman of the computer science department at the University of Minnesota. "We realized that we could help make progress on this important environmental challenge by using new tools and approaches that many in the environmental community have not yet encountered. Advances in data mining and other computer science disciplines are making possible revolutionary advances in environmental understanding. This platform is only the beginning that we have in mind as part of our partnership with the Planetary Skin Institute." * * * # # # The Planetary Skin Institute is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization that aims to improve lives around the world by developing information technology-based risk and resource management decision-support tools that address growing challenges of resource scarcity. PSI works with research and development partners to build working prototypes in a range of innovative projects that have the potential to increase food, water, and energy security and protect ecosystems such as tropical forests. In March of 2009, Cisco and NASA agreed a multi-year R&D public private partnership to co-develop the Planetary Skin. From their early work together on tropical forestry, both organizations soon realized that they faced a powerful opportunity to address not only scientific and technical challenges, but also institutional and cultural challenge by pooling their R&D capabilities and assets in a partnership based on joint innovation. They transformed their partnership into an independent, non-profit organization that could cut across institutional, disciplinary, and national boundaries and create a space for flexible pooling of assets and ideas between stakeholder networks. PSI was named one of TIME Magazine's 'Top 50 Inventions of 2009' and represents a unique partnership between leading corporations, government agencies and academic/ research & development institutions. As part of its mission of advancing global, multi-stakeholder collaboration, PSI is committed to building a decentralized peer to peer network for research and innovation, anchored by eight regional hubs in Brazil, India, China, South Africa, Japan, Middle East, the EU and the United States. For more information on Planetary Skin Institute and its work please visit For more information on PSI, please email
Original Press release: