Google’s Timelapse Shows How Earth’s Surface Has Changed in 25 Years
Google has partnered with NASA, Time, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to show the world how much the planet’s surface has changed in 25 years through its new project Timelapse.
Timelapse shows pre-selected destinations and how they changed over a quarter of a century. From the urban expansion of Las Vegas to the deforestation of the Amazon in Brazil, Timelapse shows the impact of humans on the environment. The project is a zoomable time-lapse map built from millions of high quality satellite images and trillions of pixels. Each frame of the timelapse map is built from a year’s worth of Landsat satellite data, constituted into a single 1.7 terapixel snapshot of Earth at a 30 meter resolution.
Timelapse is the product of nearly three decades of satellite photography developed into an interactive time-lapse experience. In 2009 Google started working on images from Landsat, an ongoing joint mission between USGS and NASA. Using its very own Earth Engine technology, Google sifted through 2,068,467 images to identify satellite shots with the highest quality for every year and for every spot on the planet. The images date from 1984 to 2012 and translate into a gigantic total of 909 terabytes of data. One Landsat pixel roughly equals the size of a baseball infield. The Google team compiled the satellite shots into annual huge planetary images of 1.78 terapixels each.
The Google team then worked with the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University (which also received a Google Focused Research Award) to transform the annual planetary images into a smooth, browseable HTML5 animation. These featured pre-selected destinations of Timelapse are taken from the Google Earth Engine site.
Timelapse shows both good and bad stories: the growth of Dubai from a small desert metropolis to a modern megalopolis, now nicknamed the Disneyland of the Middle East; The central-pivot irrigation systems greening Saudi Arabia into an agricultural region; the decapitation of the West Virginia mountains by the coal mining industry; the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil; the retreat of the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska; the drying of Lake Urmia in Iran and the Aral Sea.
Our generation does not have a lot of choices over the state of the planet we inherited today. Much as we want to go back in time to change things and reverse global warming, massive deforestation, or the drying of rivers, we simply cannot undo the past. It’s hard enough to live with the consequences of our predecessors’ mistakes, but the greater tragedy is that we might pass on the same legacy to those who will come after us. Let’s learn our lessons from the past 25 years -good and bad – but let’s keep our eyes on how we will shape the next 25 years. It is our choices and actions today that matter the most.
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