Google Earth is adding a mesmerizing timelapse feature, showing the changes of our planet over time in what Google says is its biggest update since 2017. Timelapse in Google Earth pulls together a total of 24 million satellite images of the planet taken over the past 37 years, unlocking an unprecedented perspective of the changes those decades have wrought.
As you might expect, some of those changes are considerable. Towns flourish into cities, while industrial centers grow. At the same time, forests and rainforest have been shrinking in some areas, while climate change has had a significant impact on many areas of the arctic and antarctic, as well as closer to more populated parts of the globe.
Unsurprisingly, trying to condense nearly four decades of satellite data – taken from different sources and with different equipment – was no straightforward task. Google says it used its Earth Engine cloud platform for geospatial analysis to combine 20 petabytes of imagery in total, into a single 4.4 terapixel video mosaic. That took more than two million processing hours across thousands of Google Cloud machines.
The result is what Google believes to be “the largest video on the planet, of our planet.” The primary data sources were NASA and and the United States Geological Survey’s Landsat program and the European Union’s Copernicus program using Sentinel satellites.
Google plans to update Timelapse with new imagery each year, throughout the next decade. The company says it’s hoping that the system will leave users more aware of the changes that human activity take place, the potential impacts of climate change both in remote areas and close to home, and to “ground debates, encourage discovery and shift perspectives about some of our most pressing global issues.”
How to use Timelapse in Google Earth
You can access Timelapse in Google Earth from g.co/Timelapse. There, you can search for a particular location to see the satellite data for there over the course of 1984 to 2020.
Alternatively, Google has highlighted some of the most dramatic changes over that period. Clicking the ship’s wheel icon opens up Voyager, with interactive guided tours of some of the best. There are also 800+ Timelapse videos – in both 2D and 3D – available, many of which are already on YouTube.
Meanwhile, there are five guided tours that Google created in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab. These focus on five of the most impactful themes affecting, or resulting from that impact on, the Earth today: forest change, urban growth, warming temperatures, sources of energy, and fragile beauty.