Google Earth’s new ‘Timelapse’ feature shows 4 decades of climate change

From the changing forests in Oregon to the evolving glaciers in Greenland, a new feature on Google Earth illustrates nearly four decades of climate change from endless vantage points.

The feature, Timelapse, provides a global, zoomable time-lapse video from various locations on Earth from 1984 through 2020 and provides visual evidence of how the climate and human behaviors have changed regions of Earth’s surface.

"Since launching Google Earth, we've focused on creating a 3D replica of the world that reflects our planet in magnificent detail with features that both entertain and empower everyone to create positive change," Rebecca Moore, the director of Google Earth, Earth Engine and Outreach, said in a blog post titled "Time flies in Google Earth’s biggest update in years."

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Using Earth Engine, Google combined millions of satellite images from the past several decades collected by five different satellites.

"In the biggest update to Google Earth since 2017, you can now see our planet in an entirely new dimension — time. With Timelapse in Google Earth, 24 million satellite photos from the past 37 years have been compiled into an interactive 4D experience. Now anyone can watch time unfold and witness nearly four decades of planetary change," Moore said.

According to Google, the majority of the images come from Landsat, a joint USGS and NASA Earth observation program that has observed the Earth since the 1970s. Since 2015, Google combined Landsat imagery with imagery from the Sentinel-2 mission, part of the European Union and European Space Agency’s Copernicus Earth observation program.

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In addition, Google partnered with Carnegie Mellon University CREATE Lab to show how human impact is changing Earth’s forests and waterways and how cities are growing around the world.

"Our planet has seen rapid environmental change in the past half-century — more than any other point in human history," Moore said. "With Timelapse in Google Earth, we have a clearer picture of our changing planet right at our fingertips — one that shows not just problems but also solutions, as well as mesmerizingly beautiful natural phenomena that unfold over decades."