Google Earth’s new 3D time-lapse feature shows how much has changed over the years

Google Earth’s new 3D time-lapse feature shows how much has changed over the years

Google Earth is adding a 3D time-lapse feature that shows how much our planet has changed since 1984. The search giant said it teamed up with Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab to create the technology behind the new feature, which Google said is the biggest addition to the platform since 2017.

“With Timelapse in Google Earth, 24 million satellite photos from the past 37 years have been compiled into an interactive 4D experience,” said Rebecca Moore, Director, Google Earth, Earth Engine & Outreach. “Now anyone can watch time unfold and witness nearly four decades of planetary change.”

To view a time-lapse in Google Earth, you can head to this link to see how much things have changed over the past few decades. Google said you can choose any place on the planet where you want to see time in motion. The search giant has also created a storytelling platform called voyager that features interactive guided tours of changing forests and urban expansion.

Google said it has also uploaded more than 800 videos in both 2D and 3D for public use at g.co/TimelapseVideos. You can download them in MP4 format, or you can watch all of them via a YouTube playlist.

“Our planet has seen rapid environmental change in the past half-century — more than any other point in human history. Many of us have experienced these changes in our own communities; I myself was among the thousands of Californians evacuated from their homes during the state’s wildfires last year,” Moore said. “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, we have a clearer picture of our changing planet right at our fingertips — one that shows not just problems but also solutions, as well as mesmerizingly beautiful natural phenomena that unfold over decades.”

Image: Google

To add animated time-lapse imagery to Google Earth, the company said it gathered more than 24 million satellite images from 1984 to 2020, using data from the U.S. government, European Union, and NASA. The company then combined 20 petabytes of satellite imagery into a single 4.4 terapixel-sized video mosaic. That equates to roughly 530,000 videos in 4K resolution, according to Google. (But don’t worry, Google said all of this computing was done inside its carbon-neutral, 100 percent renewable energy-matched data centers.)

Google Earth previously introduced a time-lapse feature to the platform in 2013, displaying 2D images of the planet from 1984 to 2012. Today’s updated time-lapse feature offers a more immersive experience and the most up-to-date data. As the videos show, a lot has changed over the last 37 years.

Google said that it plans to update Google Earth’s time-lapse feature on an annual basis throughout the next decade.

“We hope that this perspective of the planet will ground debates, encourage discovery and shift perspectives about some of our most pressing global issues,” Moore said.

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Brandon Russell
Brandon Russell

Brandon's love of technology can be traced back to his childhood, when he would obsessively watch Back to the Future. Since then he's followed the industry and its many innovations, from handheld consoles to powerful smartphones. He's still waiting on a hoverboard.