Stunning 30-year timelapse shows earth's changing surface

A timelapse of the Columbia glacier retreat, via Google/TIME

In 1984, the U.S. Geological Survey and NASA launched a program called Landsat, capturing and archiving hi-resolution satellite images of the earth's surface. Google and Time magazine recently teamed up to create time-lapse videos from the images, releasing the results of the project on Thursday.

"We believe this is the most comprehensive picture of our changing planet ever made available to the public," Rebecca Moore, engineering manager for Google's Earth Engine & Earth Outreach program, wrote in a blog post announcing the Timelapse launch.

Zooming in, users can see startling video footage of melting glaciers in Alaska, deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon, coastal expansion in Dubai and urban sprawl in Las Vegas, created using millions of historical satellite images:

We started working with the USGS in 2009 to make this historic archive of earth imagery available online. Using Google Earth Engine technology, we sifted through 2,068,467 images—a total of 909 terabytes of data—to find the highest-quality pixels (e.g., those without clouds), for every year since 1984 and for every spot on Earth. We then compiled these into enormous planetary images, 1.78 terapixels each, one for each year.

As the final step, we worked with the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University, recipients of a Google Focused Research Award, to convert these annual Earth images into a seamless, browsable HTML5 animation.
"Consider: a standard TV image uses about one-third of a million pixels per frame, while a high-resolution image uses 2 million," Time's Jeffrey Kluger noted. "The Landsat images, by contrast, weigh in at 1.8 trillion pixels per frame, the equivalent of 900,000 high-def TVs assembled into a single mosaic."

A timelapse of Las Vegas Urban Growth, as seen through Google Earth.


Explore more of the timelapse imagery on Time.com.
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