New Google Earth feature shows 40 years of devastating climate change

20 petabytes of satellite imagery were used to show decades of global changes

Google Earth timelapse launch

Google has announced its biggest update to Google Earth in years: the ability to view the past 37 years of our planet in a new feature called ‘Timelapse’.

The feature, enabled by 24 million satellite photos compiled into a 4D experience, means that anyone can see how the world has changed and get a better picture of the environmental difficulties we now face.

“Our planet has seen rapid environmental change in the past half-century — more than any other point in human history. Many of us have experienced these changes in our own communities; I myself was among the thousands of Californians evacuated from their homes during the state’s wildfires last year. For other people, the effects of climate change feel abstract and far away, like melting ice caps and receding glaciers,” a Google representative said in the search giant’s announcement.

“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.”

Google worked with experts at Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab to develop Timelapse, with guided tours on five environmental topics: ‘forest change’, ‘urban growth’, ‘warming temperatures’, ‘sources of energy’, and the planet’s ‘fragile beauty’.

Such a technological feat was not easy; it took over two million processing hours in Google Cloud to compile the 20 petabytes of satellite imagery into a single 4.4 terapixel-sized video mosaic, made up of quadrillions of pixels. Google Earth will be updated annually with new imagery for Timelapse over the next decade.

The history of Google Earth is a peculiar one. The technology was originally used to visualise battlefields during the Iraq War, when it was being invested in by the CIA.

Google bought Keyhole, the company that developed the ‘Earthviewer’ program, as it was called, outright in 2004. At the time, much of the imagery in Google Earth was commercially available data from US military satellites, but the company eventually replaced it with its Street View content – which it owns the copyright for – so that it would not have to pixelate sensitive areas.

Our own planet is not the only one visible on Google Earth. In 2017, Google also introduced the ability to look at planets, dwarf planets, moons, and the International Space Station into the software.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in