News / Science & Technology

Time-Lapse Look at Earth Shows Decades of Change

Smoke drifts south in this image of Al Basrah, located in southeastern Iraq, captured by the Landsat mission on April 4, 2003. The green circles from the center to the left of the image represent irrigated crops. (Courtesy USGS)
Smoke drifts south in this image of Al Basrah, located in southeastern Iraq, captured by the Landsat mission on April 4, 2003. The green circles from the center to the left of the image represent irrigated crops. (Courtesy USGS)
Sometimes we get a clearer perspective by taking a step back. A new project by Google, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), NASA and TIME offers the distance we need to see our planet, and our species, like we’ve never seen them before.

The project, called Earth Engine, is made up of more than 28 years of satellite images taken of Earth and turned into an interactive timelapse map that shows expanding cities, shrinking rainforests, drying lakes and melting glaciers.

Dubai 1984-2012
Dubai, 1984 - 2012. Landsat imagery via Google.

The U.S. space agency, NASA, tweaked its observation of the universe in the 1970s so that it wasn’t just looking into outer space, but was also peering down at Earth, watching how humans are altering the planet we live on. The mission, called Landsat, has collected millions of images with eight orbiting satellites, all archived by the USGS.

Those images weren’t doing the public much good until the U.S. government decided in 2008 that they should be available for free to anyone who wanted to use them.  That’s when the Internet giant, Google, stepped in.

In 2009, Google started sifting through 2,068,467 images - 909 terabytes of data - to find the best-quality pictures taken between 1984 and 2012. Throwing out pixels shrouded in clouds or forest fire smoke or industrial smog, Google brought their pictures to Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab to produce an online animation.

The result is a revelation, sometimes frightening, sometimes breathtaking.

Amazon Rainforest in Brazil, 1984-2012
Brazil's Amazon rainforest, 1984 - 2012. Landsat imagery via Google.

The deep green of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest fades into a brownish landscape scarred by deforestation. The straight razor edge of Dubai’s desert coastline sprouts artificial islands, made into the shape of palm trees by sand dredged from the ocean floor. And images of the Columbia Glacier in the U.S. state of Alaska begin as a blinding white blanket in 1984 and end, 28 years later, as shredded patches of snow.

From Hong Kong to the Democratic Republic of Congo to your home town, Earth Engine offers a new perspective, wherever you are. The self-guided tour through man’s “development” on Earth is both inspiring and troubling with its unvarnished look at where we’ve been and where we’re going.

You May Like

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge More

Nigerian Islamic School Tries to Combat Boko Haram

Kaduna school headmaster teaches his students that what militants are doing is are doing is 'a total misunderstanding of the Islamic religion' More

University Trains Students to Advocate for Deaf People Worldwide

Program prepares graduates to advocate internationally for access to education, jobs for people with disabilities More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid