Envirolink Tools project: A Collaborative Satellite Data Workspace for Regional Councils

Funder: New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment
Project Leader: GNS Science, Rogier Westerhoff
Project partners: University of Auckland, Indufor, Xerra, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research
Project duration: 2019-2021

Project description
This project aims to develop a suite of standard processing methods that apply satellite data to identify and map land, soil, vegetation and inland water consistently across New Zealand’s regions. The suite employs the Google Earth Engine (GEE) cloud-computing service for satellite data processing, where methods are easily shareable between all regional councils. The project embraces a coordinated approach where one-on-one training and six-monthly national workshops for regional councils go hand in hand. Training is provided by domain experts across New Zealand (GNS Science, University of Auckland, Indufor, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research and Xerra). Key outputs are:

  • A suite of methods and algorithms in GEE that assesses, e.g., land-use change, wetland dynamics, flood and drought impacts, forestry, landslips, pasture growth, vegetation and irrigation indicators, applicable at both the national and regional scale;
  • One-on-one training at regional councils and six-monthly national training workshops to build capability with the GEE computing tools for the specific criteria and applications of the regional councils;
  • Guideline documents outlining the explanation and possible uses of the methods and algorithms; and
  • A report explaining long term roll-out of the proposed methods in a range of applications.

This webpage aims to provide a brief overview over the project. More details can be found in our project wiki.

Workshops and ‘one-on-one’ sessions

Four workshops will be undertaken over the duration of the project and supported by additional ‘one-on-one’ sessions. The workshops will be used to introduce the concepts to regional council staff; to get users into one room; and build capability in regional councils over the course of the project. ‘One-on-one’ sessions will be led by domain experts either from GNS or one of the partner organisations and will involve someone visiting the regional council to facilitate a knowledge exchange workshop with a group from the council. These sessions will be regional council-specific to offer tailored solutions.

The fourth and final workshop will take place:

Date: 29 June 2020
Time:  9:45am - 3pm
Location:  University of Auckland (Level 1, Building 302-180 (Science Centre), 23 Symonds Street) and as online (MS-Teams) webinar Online webinar and face-to-face workshop at University of Auckland (Covid-19-dependent)
Costs:                    Registration is free for regional council and central government staff.

Please register your interest by clicking on this link.

Workshop description

The fourth workshop will be focused around demonstrators of regional council applications; hands-on exercises on how to share the applications with others; and the future of this workspace.

As communicated in the previous workshops, each workshop will contain an increasing amount of regional council participation. We anticipate of having at least 50% of the workshop being presented by regional council scientists. We have actively engaged with some of you, but if there is any interest to present some of your findings, please let us know.

If you have not participated in the first workshop: not a problem! let us know through the registration link and we will get you up to speed in some parallel sessions.

Information on older workshops

The third workshop took place on 10 December 2020, 9:45am - 3pm at the University of Auckland (Level 1, Building 302-180 (Science Centre), 23 Symonds Street) and as online (MS-Teams) webinar. This workshop was focused around regional council’s activities applying Google Earth Engine; including break-out sessions of regional councils’case studies, presented by regional council scientists.

The second workshop took place on 16 June 2020, 9.30am – 3pm, as an online webinar via Microsoft Teams. This webinar included presentations and also tutorials run via breakout rooms.

The first workshop took place on 4 February 2020, at  9.30am – 3pm;  The University of Auckland (Level 1, Building 302-180 (Science Centre), 23 Symonds Street). 

More information on these workshops as well as tutorial and recordings from the workshops are available via our wiki.

Pilot studies

Within the project, three pilot studies will be undertaken tackling three specific topics that are chosen by regional council staff from a longer list. Three pilot studies will be known after the first workshop (i.e. February 2020).


There will be a need for datasets from councils to work on, however, this will be reliant on the usage of the data and the outcome required. Initially, satellite data hosted in Google Earth Engine will be utilised and then compared to specific regional council data.

Google Earth Engine

Google Earth Engine (GEE) is a processing platform that facilitates easier and more shareable satellite remote sensing data analyses. The benefit of using GEE is that it takes away the high computational burden of having to download and process vast amounts of satellite data to one’s own computer or computing facilities. One of the main benefits is the ability to host and process datasets thereby reducing data compilation efforts and increasing analytical efficiency.

In Google’s own words: Gorelick et al. (2017) URL: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rse.2017.06.031 states: “Google Earth Engine is a cloud-based platform for planetary-scale geospatial analysis that brings Google's massive computational capabilities to bear on a variety of high-impact societal issues including deforestation, drought, disaster, disease, food security, water management, climate monitoring and environmental protection. It is unique in the field as an integrated platform designed to empower not only traditional remote sensing scientists, but also a much wider audience that lacks the technical capacity needed to utilize traditional supercomputers or large-scale commodity cloud computing resources.”

Our project will test, with regional councils and satellite remote sensing experts, the opportunities and challenges for regional councils to share each other’s scripts and data in a collaborative platform built on GEE.

Google earth image
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