How can we see what's happened to the earth's surface over the last 40 years? Well, the Landsat satellite has been taking image after image -- in fact, a complete image of Earth's surface every 16 days -- for the last four decades. That means we have all the data we might need, if we could figure out the best way to look at it all. Thankfully, there is a high-tech tool that can handle such a pile of information. Google's Earth Engine is taking all the data captured by Landsat over the last 40 years and making sense of it all, so that we can really see how the planet's surface has changed over the years.
From Earth Engine:
Google Earth Engine brings together the world's satellite imagery — trillions of scientific measurements dating back almost 40 years — and makes it available online with tools for scientists, independent researchers, and nations to mine this massive warehouse of data to detect changes, map trends and quantify differences on the Earth's surface. Applications include: detecting deforestation, classifying land cover, estimating forest biomass and carbon, and mapping the world’s roadless areas.
The technology behind both capturing the images and now processing all the information to read and understand it is complex and fascinating -- and something you can take part in. Earth Engine API is available (to select people) to "develop, access and run algorithms on the full Earth Engine data archive, all using Google's parallel processing platform." If you're interested in being one of the minds behind this project, you can contact Google to get involved.
Learn about how Landsat works, and the partnership with Google Earth Engine:
Using technology dreamed up and launched 40 years ago and technology dreamed up and in use today, we can see how we've altered this planet in just a couple generations. While the changes may be disturbing in many ways, the fact that this technology is available to us, so that we can see and hopefully change our ways, is encouraging.
Here's some of the fascinating timelapse videos completed so far:
The growth of Las Vegas:
The Drying of the Aral Sea:
The Deforestation of the Amazon:
There are more amazing videos on Google Earth Engine, though for many you need the Google Earth plug-in to view them. Well worth the download!