Skip to main content

Google Earth Timelapse reveals our planet's surface development

The data-crunching developers at Google are renowned for taking vast amounts of information and processing it into fascinating snapshots of our world. Now the company has teamed up with several partners to harness the data culled from Google Earth and NASA satellites to produce a virtual time machine that looks at how the planet has developed over time.

Through a partnership with NASA and the US Geological Survey (USGS), Google has released an online database of timelapse images that shows almost 30 years of satellite imagery of Earth's surface, undergoing various changes. Those images can also be viewed via Time magazine's new Timelapse project, a site that aggregates and contextualises the imagery via an interactive presentation.

To make the visualisations clear and consistent, Google began working with the USGS back in 2009 and used Google Earth Engine to parse through the roughly two million images that represent about 900 terabytes of data. Selecting the images with the best resolutions, as well as picking out the views free of cloud cover, the team assembled the database that spans from 1984 to 2012. The original satellite imagery was facilitated by a project known as Landsat, a series of satellites that have been orbiting the Earth since 1972.

Some of the stunning timelapse imagery includes visuals of the development of Dubai's artificial Palm Islands (below), the growth of Las Vegas, as well as the tragic retreat of Alaska's Columbia Glacier, and the gradual deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon.

"Much like the iconic image of Earth from the Apollo 17 mission — which had a profound effect on many of us — this time-lapse map is not only fascinating to explore, but we also hope it can inform the global community's thinking about how we live on our planet and the policies that will guide us in the future," Google Earth Engine's Rebecca Moore wrote in a blog post.