Google Earth update shows how climate change has morphed our planet
The revised timelapse feature lets you see glaciers receding and sea levels rising in even sharper detail.
Exit Glacier, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
In 2013, Google released Google Earth Timelapse, an interactive viewer that lets users see satellite images of Earth from 1984 to the present, giving a rapid timelapse look at how human development and climate change have shaped our planet. Also in 2013, Popular Science reported that the scientific consensus surrounding human-driven climate change was stronger than ever. With Google’s new update to Timelapse, users can see the effects of global climate change even more sharply, including melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and receding forests.
With more satellite data driving this update, viewers can watch the effects of climate change, such as Exit Glacier in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula rapidly receding over the past three decades. According to a news release from Google, this update uses “four additional years of imagery, petabytes of new data, and a sharper view of the Earth from 1984 to 2016.” This means it’s easier for users to not only see the effects of climate change, but also the effects of rapid human population growth.
The east African nation of Ethiopia has experienced massive deforestation throughout the past few decades, much of it for agriculture to feed a rapidly growing population. Though government programs to encourage sustainable farming practices have helped slow the pace of deforestation, you can see on this timelapse map how much of the country’s green has turned brown.
Other environmental changes, such as sea level rise, are less reversible, but still profound.
One of the places in the United States most affected by sea level rise is Dorchester County, Maryland. As you can see in this timelapse over the past 30 years, the salt marshes in this coastal county have become more and more submerged, which puts communities and the seafood industry at risk.
Other coastal communities face similar challenges in the face of a changing world.
This map of the Mississippi River Delta, at Louisiana’s coast, shows how small islands form and disappear over the years. While this process has been ongoing for thousands of years, human communities make these natural shifts more dangerous. The low-lying communities of the Delta region were hit hard by Hurricane Katrina, and another major storm could be even riskier in coming years.
Coastal areas aren’t the only places being affected by climate change, though.
Lake McConaughy in Keith County, Nebraska, lies within the northern extent of the Ogallala Aquifer. This shallow water table, which supplies nearly a third of the United States’ irrigation water, has been put under increasing strain since the middle of the twentieth century, as midwestern farmers have contended with drought to meet ever-increasing demands for their produce.
These timelapses may paint a less-than-rosy picture, but remember: You can also just play around with Timelapse to see how your hometown has changed throughout your lifetime.