In the biggest update to Google Earth since 2017, users of the programme can now see the planet, including developments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, in an entirely new dimension.
With Timelapse in Google Earth, 24 million satellite photos from the past 37 years have been compiled into an interactive 4D experience.
For the past 15 years, millions of people have turned to Google Earth to explore the planet from endless vantage points.
Users might have peaked at Mount Everest, or flown through their hometown. Since launching the programme, Google has focused on creating a 3D replica of the world that reflects the planet in magnificent detail, with features that both entertain and empower everyone to create positive change.
Now anyone can watch time unfold and witness nearly four decades of planetary change.
The planet has seen rapid environmental change in the past half-century, more than any other point in human history.
“Many users have experienced these changes in their own communities,” said Rebecca Moore, Director at Google Earth, Earth Engine & Outreach, “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. With Timelapse in Google Earth, users have a clearer picture of the changing planet right at their fingertips, one that shows not just problems but also solutions, as well as beautiful natural phenomena that unfold over decades.
To explore Timelapse in Google Earth, users simply need to go to g.co/Timelapse. There, they can use the handy search bar to choose any place on the planet where they want to see time in motion.
Users can also open Google Earth and click on the ship’s wheel to find Timelapse in the storytelling platform, Voyager, to see interactive guided tours.
Google also uploaded more than 800 Timelapse videos in both 2D and 3D for public use at g.co/TimelapseVideos. Users can select any video they want as a ready-to-use MP4 video, or sit back and watch the videos on YouTube.
From governments and researchers to publishers, teachers and advocates, Google has said it is excited to see how people will use Timelapse in Google Earth to shine a light on the issues facing the planet.
In the MENA region, users can discover explore changes in: Algeria (Algiers); Bahrain (Manama); Egypt (Cairo, New Cairo, the Dakhlah Oasis, and Sharm El-Sheikh); Jordan (the Dead Sea); Kuwait (Al Khiran, Al Khiran Pearl City, and Kuwait City); Gabal El Uweinat (Libya, Sudan & Egypt); Qatar (Doha); Saudi Arabia (Al Jowf); and the UAE (Dubai).
Understand the causes of Earth’s change
Google worked with experts at Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab in the US, to create the technology behind Timelapse.
Continuing the work to make sense of what they were seeing, Moore added, “As we looked at what was happening, five themes emerged: forest change, urban growth, warming temperatures, sources of energy, and our world’s fragile beauty.”
Google Earth takes users on a guided tour of each topic to better understand them, and their effects on the earth.
Putting time on Earth in the palm of the hand
Making a planet-sized time lapse video required a significant amount of what is called “pixel crunching” in Earth Engine, Google’s cloud platform for geospatial analysis.
To add animated Timelapse imagery to Google Earth, the team gathered over 24 million satellite images from 1984 to 2020, representing quadrillions of pixels.
It took more than two million processing hours across thousands of machines in Google Cloud to compile 20 petabytes of satellite imagery into a single 4.4 terapixel-sized video mosaic. That’s the equivalent of 530,000 videos in 4K resolution.
All this computing was done inside Google’s carbon-neutral, 100% renewable energy-matched data centres, which are part of the company’s commitments to help build a carbon-free future.
As far as Google knows, Timelapse on Google Earth is the largest video on the planet, and of the planet. This video’s creation required out-of-this-world collaboration.
Timelapse in Google Earth simply would not have been possible without NASA and the United States Geological Survey’s Landsat programme, the world’s first (and longest-running) civilian Earth observation programme. Also involved were the European Union’s (EU) Copernicus programme with its Sentinel satellites.
What will you do with Timelapse?
Google invites anyone to take Timelapse into their own hands and share it with others, whether to marvel at changing coastlines, follow the growth of megacities, or track deforestation.
Timelapse in Google Earth is about zooming out to assess the health and well-being of our only home, and is a tool that can educate and inspire action.
Visual evidence can cut to the core of the debate in a way that words cannot and communicate complex issues to everyone. Take for example the 2020 award-winning documentary “Nature Now” that uses satellite imagery to show humanity’s growing footprint on the planet.
Timelapse for the next decade to come
In collaboration with its partners, Google will update Google Earth annually with new Timelapse imagery throughout the next decade. This comes as part of the tech giant’s hope that this perspective of the planet will ground debates, encourage discovery, and shift perspectives about some of our most pressing global issues.
The original blog published by Rebecca Moore, Director, Google Earth, Earth Engine & Outreach in the Keyword.