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Google Earth gets ‘Timelapse’ feature that unveils nearly four decades of planetary change

Bottom line: The new Timelapse feature comes as part of Google’s biggest update to the Google Earth platform since 2017. It compiles satellite imagery from the past 37 years, allowing users on the web to travel back in time and unfold how the planet’s surface and environment have changed between 1984 and 2020. From rapid urbanization, melting glaciers, and changing forests to crop circles popping up in the middle of a desert, the tool is meant to educate and inspire action globally for dealing with the challenges of mankind’s growing footprint on Earth.

Google and Pennsylvania’s Carnegie Mellon University have worked together on Google Earth’s new Timelapse feature to unfold nearly four decades of planetary change. For what many of us likely used to get a satellite view of our house when it first came out, the tool’s biggest update since 2017 arguably makes it much more useful as it now gives a clearer picture of how environmental change has impacted Earth.

Google Earth’s Director, Rebecca Moore, notes that the creation of the planet-sized timelapse video required significant “pixel crunching” of Google’s Earth Engine, the company’s cloud platform for geospatial analysis. The data was gathered from over 24 million satellite images and then processed on thousands of machines in Google data centers, taking them over 2 million processing hours to compile 20 petabytes of imagery for creating a single 4.4 terapixel-sized video mosaic.

Although Timelapse can be used to observe environmental changes anywhere in the world, Google has organized some of its information across five themes for better understanding. These online guided tours cover Changing Forests, Fragile Beauty, Sources of Energy, Warming Planet, and Urban Expansion.

“Visual evidence can cut to the core of the debate in a way that words cannot and communicate complex issues to everyone,” notes Rebecca, adding that Google Earth will be updated annually with new Timelapse imagery throughout the next decade in the hope of educating, encouraging discovery and inspiring action for the pressing global issue of climate change.

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