Stunning Time-Lapse Shows Changes in Earth’s Surface Over 30 Years

A partnership between Google, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), NASA and TIME magazine has resulted in the first multi-decade, interactive time-lapse of the Earth showing how its surface has changed over nearly 30 years.

“We believe this is the most comprehensive picture of our changing planet ever made available to the public,” Google wrote on its blog post about the Timelapse project.

The project compiles millions of satellite images from the Landsat mission and trillions of pixels.

“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,” Google wrote. “We then compiled these into enormous planetary images, 1.78 terapixels each, one for each year.”

Here’s a sequence of the Columbia glacier in Alaska retreating over time (but visit the actual animation here):

(Image: Google Landsat Annual Timelapse)
(Image: Google Landsat Annual Timelapse)
(Image: Google Landsat Annual Timelapse)
(Image: Google Landsat Annual Timelapse)

The data compiled was then created into HTML5 animations by Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab.

TIME explains the interactive images show over nearly three decades how Dubai went from desert to a booming metropolis with the world’s tallest building; how Saudi Arabia morphed thanks to irrigation systems from a sandy terrane to having “a surreal green-on-brown polka-dot pattern;” how the Columbia Glacier in Alaska is receding; and how human activity like mining and logging has impacted Wyoming and the Amazon, respectively.

(Image: Google Blog screenshot)

Watch the urban explosion over various cities in this video version of Timelapse:

“These Timelapse pictures tell the pretty and not-so-pretty story of a finite planet and how its residents are treating it — razing even as we build, destroying even as we preserve,” TIME wrote on its website. “It takes a certain amount of courage to look at the videos, but once you start, it’s impossible to look away.”

Watch TIME’s video for more background on the project:

Google states that its goal for the project is to “inform the global community’s thinking about how we live on our planet and the policies that will guide us in the future.”

See the Landsat Annual Timelapse from 1984 to 2012 in full here.

(H/T: Popular Science)