Google Earth Now Shows Decades of Climate Change in Seconds

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Google Earth has partnered with NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, and Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab to bring users time-lapse images of the planet’s surface—24 million satellite photos taken over 37 years. Together they offer photographic evidence of a planet changing faster than at any time in millennia. Shorelines creep in. Cities blossom. Trees fall. Water reservoirs shrink. Glaciers melt and fracture.

“We can objectively see global warming with our own eyes,” said Rebecca Moore, director of Google Earth. "We hope that this can ground everyone in an objective, common understanding of what's actually happening on the planet, and inspire action."

Timelapse, the name of the new Google Earth feature, is the largest video on the planet, according to a statement from the company, requiring 2 million hours to process in cloud computers, and the equivalent of 530,000 high-resolution videos. The tool stitches together nearly 50 years of imagery from the U.S.'s Landsat program, which is run by NASA and the USGS. When combined with images from complementary European Sentinel-2 satellites, Landsat provides the equivalent of complete coverage of the Earth's surface every two days. Google Earth is expected to update Timelapse about once a year. 

The Timelapse images are stark. In Southwestern Greenland, warmer Atlantic waters and air temperatures are accelerating ice melt.

Google Earth Now Shows Decades of Climate Change in Seconds

Tree loss in Brazil in 2020 surged by a quarter over the prior year.

Google Earth Now Shows Decades of Climate Change in Seconds

Solar farms are rising in China. 

Google Earth Now Shows Decades of Climate Change in Seconds

This image, below, illustrates what it took to make a viewable experience. The 24 million images had to be processed to remove clouds or other obstructions and then stitched together into the final product. 

Google Earth Now Shows Decades of Climate Change in Seconds

“Now, our one, static snapshot of the planet”—Google Earth—“has become dynamic, providing ongoing visual evidence of Earth's changes from climate and human behavior occurring across space and time, over four decades,” Moore said. “And this was made possible because of the U.S. government and European Union's commitments to open and accessible data.”

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