Google Creates 30 Year Timelapse of Environmental Changes on Earth

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Patrick Fiorenza

One of my favorite sites to read is The Atlantic Cities, I always seem to find interesting stories and insights on innovative public sector programs. One story that caught my eye was “A Terrifying, Fascinating Timelapse of 30 Years of Human Impact on Earth.”(Go here to see the Timelapse Project, it’s absolutely fascinating.)


In this story, Emily Badger, staff writer at The Atlantic Cities, highlights how NASA, USGS, TIME, Google and the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon have collaborated to show environmental and man-made changes over time. The Google blog announcing the program states:

Today, we’re making it possible for you to go back in time and get a stunning historical perspective on the changes to the Earth’s surface over time. Working with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), NASA and TIME, we’re releasing more than a quarter-century of images of Earth taken from space, compiled for the first time into an interactive time-lapse experience. We believe this is the most comprehensive picture of our changing planet ever made available to the public.

The images were built from millions of satellite images and trillions of pixels. Be sure to go visit the Google blog, as you can explore and zoom into the images. Some examples of changes that you can see are:

  • Sprouting of Dubai’s artificial Palm Islands
  • Retreat of Alaska’s Columbia Glacier
  • Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon
  • Urban growth in Las Vegas from 1984 to 2012


The collected images are part of the ongoing collaboration between USGS and NASA called Landsat. This program has occured since the 1970s, and with modern technology, we can now see changes overtime and learn how our surroundings are being impacted by environmental and human impacts. You can learn all about the project by visiting the Time website here. The project is remarkable, I highly recommend going to the Timelapse Site, where you can read about the history and case studies, watch the timelapse, and also watch excellent videos describing the content.

The project is really interesting to explore, and is another example of how mapping and visualizing is shaping the public sector. The timelapse images paint a compelling and worrisome picture how our environment is changing. There are some remarkable states to create the project, Google states, “Using Google Earth Engine technology, we sifted through 2,068,467 images—a total of 909 terabytes of data—to find the highest-quality pixels (e.g., those without clouds), for every year since 1984 and for every spot on Earth. We then compiled these into enormous planetary images, 1.78 terapixels each, one for each year.”

You can learn more about the project by visiting the Google Blog and Atlantic Cities article, and viewing all the great resources on Timelapse.

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2 Comments

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David B. Grinberg

Environmental degradation run amok. Thanks corporate America, China and other participants to global pollution and global warming.

Don’t you know not to mess with Mother Nature!

Well, you know now.

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