Google’s most comprehensive global interactive map — Google Earth Timelapse — has received its biggest overhaul ever to let you see how the planet has changed over the years. Simply zoom into any corner of the Earth and explore how that location transformed between 1984 and 2016.
Feast your eyes on the greatest engineering feat of the 20th century, the Panama Canal, or watch the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge reconstruction in true colors. Check out Brazil’s capital city Brasilia’s breathtaking growth or discover Dubai’s artificial Palm Islands sprout.
But, it is not just eye candy that is on offer here. Some of the starkest effects of climate change are more than visible in Google Earth Timelapse. From vanishing lakes in Bolivia and Alaska’s recessing glaciers to massive deforestation in Ethiopia and rapidly dying Aral Sea, the mosaics unabashedly illustrate how our planet is reeling under human-driven climate change. Perhaps watching years of change condensed into mere seconds will help us realize how the rapid urban sprawl is taking a toll on the environment.
Making of Google Earth Timelapse
Google first release Timelapse in 2013. Since then, the computer-engineering muscle and image processing techniques have vastly improved, leading to sharper and more seamless mosaics. Earth Engine APIs now mine data from more than 700 trillion individual pixels to choose the best cloud-free pixels.
“Using Google Earth Engine, we sifted through about three quadrillion pixels — that’s 3 followed by 15 zeroes — from more than 5,000,000 satellite images,” Chris Herwig, Program Manager, Google Earth Engine, explained in a blog post.
The majority of images were sourced from Landsat 8 satellite — a part of a joint program of the USGS and NASA that has been observing our planet since 1972. Other imagery sources include ESA’s Sentinel-1 and 2 missions, Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensors on NASA‘s Terra and Aqua satellites, aerial data captured by the US National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP), and night-time imagery from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program’s Operational Linescan System (DMSP-OLS).
“We took the best of all those pixels to create 33 images of the entire planet, one for each year. We then encoded these new 3.95 terapixel global images into just over 25,000,000 overlapping multi-resolution video tiles,” Herwig explicated.
If you have 40 minutes to kill, watch all the amazing, and some quite depressing changes, unfold in this incredible YouTube playlist. Have fun exploring!