Google Earth Time-Lapse Feature Tracks 40 Years of Change

We have already seen the numerous ways climate change  devastates the Earth. It’s behind ghost forests popping up and down coastal US, ice caps melting in the Arctic, and wildfires destroying forests all over the world. In fact, in 2019, the United Nations warned that we only had 11 years to prevent “irreversible damage” caused by climate change. Beyond understanding the damage climate change currently inflicts on our planet, actually seeing how much the planet has changed in just a few decades paints a very stark portrait of our dire situation. Google Earth’s new Timelapse feature shows us just that. 

Google Earth has been the source of many virtual trips around the world since its launch in 2011. But this new 3D time-lapse feature takes us four decades through Earth’s changing geography. (We first learned about this at The Verge.) In a press release, Rebecca Moore, director of Google Earth, Google Earth Engine, and Google Earth Outreach, said Timelapse consists of 24 million satellite images taken over the course of 37 years—between 1984 and 2020.

The time-lapse feature is pretty easy to access. I definitely recommend everyone check it out. Here are the easy steps to reach Timelapse in Google Earth: Launch Google Earth. Then click on the Voyager tab—which features a ship’s wheel icon.

The Aral Sea shrinking between 1985 and 2020.


From there, you can use Timelapse to explore nearly 40 years of Earth’s rapidly changing geography. Or you can use the several collections to explore more targeted themes. They include Changing Forests; Fragile Beauty; Sources of Energy; Urban Expansion; and Warming Planet. Taking users all over the world, the collections focus on various ways the Earth has changed—from the Aral Sea’s shrinking urban expansion in Las Vegas.

While Timelapse only extends to last year, Google has no plans to stop there. In the press release, Moore said Google plans to update Timelapse with new images annually throughout the next decade. Among Google Earth’s partners in this monumental feat are NASA, United States Geological Survey’s Landsat program, and the European Union’s Copernicus program.

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