Google Earth Time Lapse Videos Show Impact of Human Activity on the Planet

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Google Earth has recently integrated a new feature into its system, one that lets you view the impact of human activity on earth through videos.

Using the feature Timelapse in Google Earth, you can now see how specific areas around the world — such as the Columbia Glacier and Rondônia in Brazil — have transformed at a “landscape level,” reports science and tech website Gizmodo. It contains 3D time-lapse videos revealing a succession of year-specific images, spanning from 1984 to 2020.

Google Earth Timelapse (Google, Landsat, Copernicus)

Google says this project was possible with several agencies. One is Landsat, a program by NASA and the United States Geological Survey. And the other is the Copernicus program by the European Union. They also said they enlisted the help of CREATE Lab’s experts from Carnegie Mellon University to build the technology for this feature. 

Combining the images collected from the satellites of these programs, the team behind Timelapse in Google Earth collated about 24 million satellite photos over nearly four decades, culminating into an “interactive 4D experience,” says Google Earth director Rebecca Moore in a blog post. She also notes this update is the biggest Google Earth has made since 2017.

What Should You Expect to See In Google Earth Time-lapse Videos?

If you visit Google Earth and navigate Timelapse by clicking on the ship’s wheel — dubbed “Voyager” — on the left sidebar, you will see five categories or themes on the right-hand side. 

The themes are changing forests, fragile beauty, sources of energy, warming planet, and urban expansion, Moore says. Once you’ve chosen what you want to explore, Google will tour you through their curation of regions that are some of the primary examples of each theme.

For example, under Urban Expansion, Google Earth will first take you to Las Vegas. In the 3D or 2D time-lapse video, you will see how Las Vegas has been physically expanding its urban territory since 1984.

Despite the city’s slogan, what happens in Vegas does have external effects. To the east, the shrinking Lake Mead supplies 90 percent of the city’s drinking water. Notice how the lake changes as the years go by.

— Timelapse in Google Earth

The aerial view of the region gradually transforms on your screen. While on the right, Google tells you the story behind the change. It’s an informative and mesmerizing experience containing an astounding amount of data.

Google Earth Timelapse (Google, Landsat, Copernicus)

According to Moore, creating Timelapse in Google Earth “took more than two million processing hours across thousands of machines in Google Cloud to compile 20 petabytes of satellite imagery into a single 4.4 terapixel-sized video mosaic.” The effort the team has put into the project is evident, all to show how our planet has been affected by varying causes — including those resulting from our actions.

The Relevance of the New Google Earth Feature Today

Browsing the different regions in Google Earth’s Timelapse, you get a sense of rapid activity from either natural causes or human intervention. Featured in this update are monumental events in history like the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines back in 1991, and the gradual progression of industrialization, as seen in Timelapse’s view of Texas.

Google Earth Timelapse (Google, Landsat, Copernicus)

The Associated Press (AP) reports how Natalie Mahowald, a climate scientist at Cornell University, perceives Google Earth’s new tool. “This is amazing,” Mahowald tells AP. “Trying to get people to understand the scope of…climate change and the land use problem is so difficult because of the long time and spatial scales.”

And this is true. While climate change has received more attention as an issue in the past few years, there are still plenty around the globe who consider it a minor threat, Pew Research Center says. But with Timelapse, Google urges users to look into the ways we can care for our planet better.

Impact of Videos As Shown By Timelapse in Google Earth

Visual storytelling is a powerful tool for communication. And this is precisely what Timelapse in Google Earth achieves. By developing an accessible view of the planet’s changing landscape, Google Earth provides, as Moore puts it, “visual evidence” of how our actions directly affect our only home. 

Image credits to Canva

The videos presented by Timelapse in Google Earth are compelling pieces of media because we know they’re real, and we’re witnessing what our world has gone through in the past few decades seemingly first-hand. Before us are years and years of human activity progressing in a 10-second video clip. It shows how fast we’re making changes on the earth’s environment and how fast the aftermath materializes. 

One of Google Earth’s goals is to help “governments and researchers…publishers, teachers and advocates” see what the world is going through. And by making use of the video format, the tech giant gets their message across to their audience, educating them on the present situation of the earth and inspiring them to take better action.

In Summary

Timelapse is a new feature in Google Earth that displays videos of different regions around the world. These videos span from 1984 to 2020. With the help of government agencies, tech experts, and researchers, Google was able to build this educational tool. It aims to shed light on the reasons why the world is transforming rapidly.

The new feature is a collection of 24 million satellite images taken over nearly four decades, totaling about 20 petabytes of data. As a result, users can go through an educational, video-based tour using Timelapse.

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Sources: Google (1) (2) (3) | AP News | Gizmodo | Pew Research Center

Justine Jordan

Justine Jordan is a content and copy writer. She has written for a popular business daily in the Philippines and for various startups across the globe before transitioning to work for NarraSoft. She graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines-Diliman with a bachelor's degree in journalism.