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Google Earth powered by Satellite Imagery

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April 2021: One of the most comprehensive pictures of our changing planet is now available to the public. Thanks to the close collaboration between Google Earth, ESA, the European Commission, NASA and the US Geological Survey, 24 million satellite photos from the past 37 years have been embedded into a new layer of Google Earth – creating a new, explorable view of time on our planet. 1)

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Figure 1: Sermersooq, Greenland. One of the most comprehensive pictures of our changing planet is now available to the public. Thanks to the close collaboration between Google Earth, ESA, the European Commission, NASA and the US Geological Survey, 24 million satellite photos from the past 37 years have been embedded into a new layer of Google Earth – creating a new, explorable view of time on our planet [image credit: Google Earth Timelapse (Google, Landsat, Copernicus)]

In the biggest update to Google Earth since 2017, users can now discover our planet in an entirely new dimension – time. With a new feature called Timelapse in Google Earth, users can witness nearly four decades of change across the entire planet. The update will show the visual evidence of the drastic changes taking place in our world including the effects of climate change and human behavior.

Users can now take a journey across the world, exploring the ever-changing shapes of coastlines, follow the growth of megacities, track deforestation and much more. For each topic, Google Earth will take you on a guided tour to better understand the planet’s changes and how people experience them.

Figure 2: Our Cities | Timelapse in Google Earth. See how cities around the globe have changed since 1984 through a global time-lapse video. Explore the whole planet: https://goo.gle/timelapse (video credit: Google Earth)

Rebecca Moore, Director of Google Earth, said, "This update was made possible thanks to open data provided by the European Union’s Copernicus program, and its Sentinel satellites, as well as NASA and the US Geological Survey’s Landsat program. The Copernicus Sentinel-2 high-resolution imaging mission was integral in the development of Google Earth's new Timelapse feature and the unique global view we are now bringing to people everywhere."

Maurice Borgeaud, Head of the Science, Applications & Climate Department at ESA Earth Observation Programs, commented, “The use of Copernicus Sentinel data makes it possible for millions of people to explore changes on Earth. But what the operational fleet of European satellites allows us to do goes much further! We are analyzing all aspects of changes on our planet – no matter whether natural or manmade – and their impact on the climate.”

The Sentinels are a fleet of dedicated EU-owned satellites, designed to deliver the wealth of data and imagery that are central to the European Union's Copernicus environmental programme. The Copernicus Sentinel-2 high-resolution imaging mission, used predominantly for land monitoring, was key to improving Timelapse and its functionality.

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Figure 3: Sentinel-2 carries a high-resolution multispectral optical imager to monitor changes in vegetation for Europe's environmental monitoring Copernicus program. This mission offers key information to optimize crop yield, thereby helping to improve food security. Data can be used to measure leaf area index, leaf chlorophyll and leaf water content to monitor plant growth, which is particularly important during the growing season. It will be used to generate land-cover maps, to track changes in the way land is being used and to monitor the world’s forests. In addition, Sentinel-2 provides information on pollution in lakes and coastal waters. Images of floods, volcanic eruptions and landslides are also offered to help respond to disasters and for humanitarian relief efforts. - Sentinel-2 is the result of close collaboration between ESA, the European Commission, industry, service providers and data users. The mission has been designed and built by a consortium of around 60 companies led by Airbus Defence and Space, and supported by the CNES French space agency to optimize image quality and by the DLR German Aerospace Centre to improve data recovery using optical communications (image credit: ESA/ATG medialab)

In order to explore Timelapse, users can use the search bar to choose any place on the planet where they want to see time in motion. Google Earth will be updated with Timelapse imagery annually throughout the next decade as more satellite images become available.

To explore this new layer in Google Earth, go to Timelapse

Figure 4: Our Forests | Timelapse in Google Earth: See how we have changed the forests of our planet since 1984 through a global time-lapse video (video credit: Google Earth)



1) ”Satellite imagery key to powering Google Earth,” ESA / Applications / Observing the Earth, 15 April 2021, URL: https://www.esa.int/Applications/Observing_the_Earth
/Satellite_imagery_key_to_powering_Google_Earth




The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (herb.kramer@gmx.net).

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