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Visualize three decades of changes to the Earth’s surface with Google Earth timelapses

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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One of our greatest innovations is our ability to look at our planet from the heavens. From hundreds of miles above the surface of our planet, we can see how everything fits together. We can see the erosion of soil over millions of years, and life that springs up in the presence of water. We also see the human experiment play out on fields and plains, along rivers and oceans. From up there, our mark is left on the planet in the form of a gray organism of concrete and steel that grows and spreads to fill in valleys and dot mountain ridges. And miles away from urban centers, other signs of our existence are found: forests are cleared and lakes are depleted.

Google’s Earth Engine project lets us see these changes happening over time. Google highlights changes on the planet’s surface in eight spots around the world: the booming city of Las Vegas, coal mines spreading across Wyoming , irrigation in Saudi Arabia, Lake Urmia, Iran drying up, Amazon deforestation, the Columbia Glacier retreating, coastal expansion in Dubai, and the Aral Sea drying up.

Sadly, I can’t embed the map view, but I did find animated GIFs of the timelapses:

Each 30-meter resolution timelapse frame is a 1.7-terapixel composite built from global, annual Landsat images captured between 1984 and 2012.

The coolest part is the timelapses are interactive, so you can zoom and pan around the planet. I checked out Austin, TX, and watched the massive expansion of roads and neighborhoods. You can see it, too, if you click this link.

I want to know: what cool things are you finding?

Image credits: Google, U.S. Geological Survey

David Wogan About the Author: An engineer and policy researcher who writes about energy, technology, and policy - and everything in between. Based in Austin, Texas. Comments? david.m.wogan@gmail.com Follow on Twitter @davidwogan.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. N a g n o s t i c 8:54 am 05/11/2013

    Animated GIFs – the horror!

    Are there no “good” changes available for depiction?

    Link to this
  2. 2. sault 2:21 am 05/12/2013

    What changes to you have in mind, Nag?

    Link to this
  3. 3. jtdwyer 8:12 pm 05/13/2013

    Can the animations be run in reverse? I’m nostalgic…
    <%)

    Link to this
  4. 4. Eromanga 3:02 am 05/17/2013

    Cool – love timelapse.

    Link to this

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