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

Video In Ukraine's Nikishino, No House Untouched by Fighting

Ninety percent of homes in one small village were damaged or destroyed as government forces failed to stop a rebel advance More

Pakistan’s 'Last Self-Declared Jew' Attacked, Detained

Argument about the rights of non-Muslims in Pakistan allegedly results in mob beating well-known Jewish Pakistani More

Turkey Cracks Down on Political Dissent, Again

People daring to engage in political dissent ahead of upcoming general elections could find themselves in jail More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Their Own Words: Citizens of Kobanii
X
Mahmoud Bali
March 06, 2015 8:43 PM
Civilians are slowly returning to Kobani, after Kurdish fighters backed by coalition airstrikes fought off a four-month siege of the northern Syrian town by Islamic State militants. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Mahmoud Bali talked to some of those who have returned. We hear about the devastation of Kobani through their own words.
Video

Video In Their Own Words: Citizens of Kobani

Civilians are slowly returning to Kobani, after Kurdish fighters backed by coalition airstrikes fought off a four-month siege of the northern Syrian town by Islamic State militants. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Mahmoud Bali talked to some of those who have returned. We hear about the devastation of Kobani through their own words.
Video

Video In Ukraine's Nikishino, No House Untouched by Fighting

In the village of Nikishino, in eastern Ukraine, recent fighting has brought utter devastation. Ninety percent of the houses are damaged or destroyed after government forces tried and failed to stop rebels advancing on the strategically important town of Debaltseve nearby. Patrick Wells reports for VOA from Nikishino.
Video

Video Crime Scenes Re-Created in 3-D Visualization

Police and prosecutors sometimes resort to re-creations of crime scenes in order to better understand the interaction of all participants in complicated cases. A Swiss institute says advanced virtual reality technology can be used for quality re-creations of events at the moment of the crime. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More