Google Timelapse Traces 32 Years of Construction and Destruction


By: Micheal Irving

To say that the world has changed since 1984 would be an understatement, but those changes can be hard to visualize. That is, until Google unveils a service like Timelapse, cramming 32 years of human progress and destruction into 10 second bites.

The video is comprised of over 5 million satellite images, most of which are thanks to the Landsat project, with the high-resolution images of the last couple of years coming from the upgraded Landsat 8 and the European Sentinel 2-A. These were stitched together using the Google’s Earth Engine to form 33 mosaics, each representing a year from 1984 to 2016. The end result is a scrollable, zoomable video of the planet’s surface.

From exploding cities to vanishing glaciers, let’s take a quick tour around the globe to see some of the most fascinating highlights.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

From the air in 1984, Dubai looked like a thin strip of a city, caught between sand and sea. Over the intervening decades, civilization spreads out into the desert, as you might expect, but also into the water: watch as the city’s famous artificial archipelagos, the Palm Islands and The World, spring up in the early 2000s.

Columbia Glacier, Alaska

A glacial pace is generally pretty slow, but we may need to change the meaning of the phrase, because the Columbia Glacier is absolutely sprinting. Since 1982, the glacier has retreated by close to 10 miles (16 km), and it’s pretty clear in the video.

Chuquicamata Mine, Chile

At one point the biggest open pit mine in the world, the Chuquicamata mine in Chile has been operating for about 100 years. Watching it carve out the landscape in the years since 1984 is mesmerizing, like a stop-motion clay animation.

Nuflo de Chavez, Bolivia

While the rate of deforestation in the Amazon has slowed down in recent years, it remains a serious issue. In this timelapse of the Nuflo de Chavez province in Bolivia, the deep green of the rainforest very quickly gives way to a light brown bald spot.

Chongqing, China

Built around the junction of the Yangtze and Jialing Rivers, Chongqing has expanded rapidly over the last few decades, to the point where it’s become China’s most populous municipality.

These five are just some of our favorites, but Google has a (literal) world of other Timelapses to explore. Along with a YouTube playlist featuring almost 200 cities and landscapes, anyone can jump into the Google Earth Engine, type in their home town and watch its progress between 1984 and 2016. Let us know what you find!

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