Five million satellite images taken by five different satellites over the last 30 years were stitched together by Google engineers in a timelapse fashion. In mere seconds you can see how deserts in Dubai or Saudi Arabia turn into sparkling metropolises, but also the startling effects of climate change which often people don’t notice at life’s pace. For instance, you can see how the Dead Sea has shrunk or the collapse of the Columbia Glacier.
“The majority of the images come from Landsat, a joint USGS/NASA Earth observation program that has observed the Earth since the 1970s. For 2015 and 2016, we combined Landsat 8 imagery with imagery from Sentinel-2A, part of the European Commission and European Space Agency’s Copernicus Earth observation program,” reads Google’s statement.
Google’s aim is to show off the power of its Earth Engine cloud-computing model. Previously, Earth Engine was used to survey over a decade of global tree cover extent, loss, and gain. This analysis would have taken 15 years to complete on a normal computer but the numbers were crunched in only a couple of days as computations were performed in parallel across thousands of machines. Elsewhere, the Map of Life team used the Earth Engine to map an interactive map used to determine habitat ranges and to assess the security of individual species.
It’s always disappointing, however, to see such clear evidence of planetary altering at the hand of humans yet so many people think ‘we’re too small’ to alter the climate. The 30 trillion tonnes of man-made stuff that cover the planet’s surface doesn’t sound ‘small’ at all. The truth is often uncomfortable and all too many of us prefer to distort reality than face it. The eyes of a satellite don’t lie.
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.