The latest Timelapse mode is part of Google Earth’s most significant upgrade since 2017. It compiles satellite images from the previous 37 years, enabling site visitors to step back in time to see how the planet’s surface and atmosphere evolved between 1984 and 2020. From accelerated urbanisation, melting glaciers, and shifting forests to crop circles appearing in the middle of a desert, the tool is intended to inform and encourage global action in response to the threats posed by humanity’s rising footprint on Earth.
Google and Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania collaborated on Google Earth’s latest Timelapse function to reveal nearly four decades of planetary transition. The tool’s largest upgrade since 2017 arguably makes it even more valuable, as it now provides a better understanding of how global change has changed Earth, something all of us likely used to get a satellite view of our house when it first came out.
Rebecca Moore, Director of Google Earth, states that the planet-sized timelapse video involved significant “pixel crunching” of Google’s Earth Engine, the company’s cloud software for geospatial research. The data was collected from over 24 million satellite photos and then stored on thousands of computers in Google data centres, taking over 2 million processing hours to assemble 20 petabytes of imagery for a single 4.4 terapixel video mosaic.
While Timelapse can be used to observe environmental changes everywhere in the world, Google has grouped some of its data into five themes for easier comprehension. These online guided tours address topics such as Changing Forests, Fragile Beauty, Energy Sources, Warming Planet, and Urban Expansion.
“Visual evidence can cut to the core of the debate in a way that words cannot and communicate complex issues to everyone,” Rebecca says, adding that Google Earth will be refreshed regularly with new Timelapse imagery over the next decade in the hopes of teaching, promoting exploration, and urging progress on the urgent global problem of climate change.