Stunning Google Timelapse Shows Just How We're Changing the Earth

Bridges are built while glaciers melt away.


On Tuesday, Google unveiled some astounding images of our planet taken by the same satellites that power Google Maps and Earth over the past four years. When combined with time-lapse satellite images of the same locations taken as far back as 1984, the new shots offer a revealing — and, sometimes, depressing — top-down view of the ways mankind is changing our planet.

“We’re making our largest update to Timelapse yet, with four additional years of imagery, petabytes of new data, and a sharper view of the Earth from 1984 to 2016,” Google Earth Program Manager Chris Herwig explained in a blog post.

“Using Google Earth Engine, we sifted through about three quadrillion pixels—that’s 3 followed by 15 zeroesfrom more than 5,000,000 satellite images,” Herwig continued. This latest update to Timelapse, which the company launched in 2013, incorporates historical satellite images as well as shots from two new satellites, Landsat 8 and Sentinel-2, he explained.

Some of the most dramatic changes include the reconstruction of the Bay Bridge connecting San Francisco to Oakland. The project was a major endeavor that took over a decade.

The Bay Bridge reconstruction as seen from the ground in 2009.

Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

But, when viewed from far above the planet’s surface via Timelapse, everything happens so fast.

Look at that lil bridge go!


Some of the other time lapses that Google highlighted, though, aren’t as cool. Hearing or reading about glaciers melting due to the effects of climate change is one thing. Seeing Antarctica’s Shirase Glacier turn disappear before your eyes, as it does in this time lapse, is another.

Another disheartening time lapse shows the rapid expansion of the Alberta Tar Sands. There’s a 50,000 square mile reservoir of heavy crude oil under forests and muskeg swamp bogs up north, but extracting it demolishes that landscape and has massive environmental impacts.


Not all of the time lapses are so dire (though it’s foolish to ignore such stunning evidence of mankind’s impact on the planet.) This way this river in Nyingchi, Tibet, China, changes over time is just cool to look at.


Google made a YouTube playlist of some of the coolest time lapses, but you’re encouraged to just head over to the Timelapse site and start exploring for yourself. Who knows what amazing and/or deeply depressing changes you’ll find?

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