Maps

A Terrifying, Fascinating Timelapse of 30 Years of Human Impact on Earth

A new interactive project from Google, NASA and the US Geological Survey.

Image
Google

Since the 1970s, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey have been amassing satellite images of every inch of our planet as part of the Landsat program. Over time, the images reveal a record of change: of cities expanding, lakes and forests disappearing, new islands emerging from the sea off the coast of rising Middle East metropolises like Dubai.

If you could thumb through these historic pictures as if in a flip book, they would show stunning change across the earth's surface, in both our natural environments and our man-made ones. Now, the digital equivalent of that experience is possible – three decades of global change as GIF – in a project unveiled today between NASA, the USGS, TIME, Google, and the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University.

Landsat images taken between 1984 and 2012 have been converted into a seamless, navigable animation built from millions of satellite photos. As Google wrote this morning on its blog: "We believe this is the most comprehensive picture of our changing planet ever made available to the public."

Below are a few of the GIFs Google has created showing some of the most startling pockets of change:

You can also zoom in to any spot on the planet – your hometown, the Amazon, your favorite Chinese mega-city – and watch the same three-decade timelapse unroll. Good luck getting anything done for the rest of the day.

The above image shows Dubai in 2011.

About the Author

  • Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific StandardGOODThe Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.