Google's new timelapse project shows 30 years of disappearing rainforest in just seconds

Brazilian Rainforest Google Earth Timelapse
© Google Earth

It's one thing to talk about deforestation, disappearing habitats, and shrinking glaciers and water resources, and another thing entirely to demonstrate it with actual satellite imagery. And thanks to Landsat images and the Google Earth Engine, we're getting a glimpse at some key locations across the planet as they are changed by the hands of man.

A series of interactive timelapse GIFs that use Landsat satellite data to display massive changes to the Earth's surface could be a potent tool for motivating individuals and organizations to take action on key issues.

Google's Animated GIFs of Earth Over Time focuses our attention on key features of our planet, such as the Amazon rainforest, the coal beds of Wyoming, the Columbia Glacier, the Aral Sea, and the deserts of Saudi Arabia.

"Today, we're making it possible for you to go back in time and get a stunning historical perspective on the changes to the Earth’s surface over time. Working with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), NASA and TIME, we're releasing more than a quarter-century of images of Earth taken from space, compiled for the first time into an interactive time-lapse experience. We believe this is the most comprehensive picture of our changing planet ever made available to the public." - Google

Some of the visualizations are kind of subtle, and need to be put into context to really hit home (such as the massive increase in irrigated areas in Saudi Arabia, which affects local water supplies, or the urban sprawl of Las Vegas, which also puts increased demands on local resources), but some of them, such as this one documenting the rapidly disappearing rainforest in the Brazilian Amazon, speak for themselves:

"Explore a global timelapse of our planet, constructed from Landsat satellite imagery. The Amazon rainforest is shrinking at a rapid rate to provide land for farming and raising cattle. Each frame of the timelapse map is constructed from a year of Landsat satellite data, constituting an annual 1.7-terapixel snapshot of the Earth at 30-meter resolution." - Google Earth Engine

These interactive timelapse images can be manipulated by pausing or zooming in to them, as we've come to expect from Google Earth, and may serve as a pivot point for those who are on the fence about the effects that our booming population and its increased demand for resources has on our Big Blue Marble.

You can view all of the images at Google +, and I recommend reading the backstory at TIME.

Do you think these types of imagery and data visualizations are important tools for conservationists, environmentalists, and activists, or are they just an interesting demonstration of technology?

Google's new timelapse project shows 30 years of disappearing rainforest in just seconds
Using Landsat imagery taken from as early as 1984, Google Earth's animated GIFs are potent proof of how quickly our world changes.

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