Landsat and Google Earth Engine may have created the closest thing we have ever seen to a virtual time machine. Forty years of satellite images of the Earth’s surface have been organized, compiled, and edited to make amazing time-lapse videos. Now, for the first time, we’re able to see the result of decades of human activity on the world’s ecosystems and the startling rates of environmental destruction, particularly in the Amazon Rainforest.
For the past 40 years, the Landsat satellite has been capturing images of the world’s changing landscapes, covering the same area every 16 days. The program was launched in 1972 as a joint venture between NASA and the US Geological Survey in an effort to collect “remote sensing” information. Landsat, in collaboration with Google’s Earth Engine, is compiling trillions of images taken over the decades to be used free of charge. It is hoped that scientists, governments, and independent researches will be able to take advantage of the data, helping to solve problems such as deforestation, estimating biomass and carbon levels, and mapping unexplored and road-less areas.
Google and Landsat have already released a video detailing the project, as well as fascinating time-lapse pieces. Among some of the most interesting subjects include Las Vegas’ urban explosion, the destruction of the Amazonian rainforest, and drying of the Aral Sea.