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Google Earth has launched a time-lapse feature that lets users wind back the clock and see how the world has changed over several decades.

Google announced a new 3D time-lapse feature in its Google Earth platform. It allows users to navigate to any spot on the globe and press Play to watch the geography change. The timeline goes back 37 years, from 1984 through today. Each frame of the time-lapse is pulled from one year of imagery. While the playback is running, users can move the camera’s position to view the shifting landscape from different angles. It allows people to see, for example, the retreat of glaciers alongside global warming, or the deforestation of the Amazon over time.

The company says it is the biggest update to Google Earth in four years.

The project is the result of collaboration between Google, NASA, the US Geological Survey, the European Commission, and the European Space Agency. The interactive video combines satellite imagery from NASA’s Landsat program and the EU’s Copernicus Project, both of which are intended to provide near-continuous imagery of the surface of the planet. Those resources all mashed together result in a staggering amount of data. Google says the time-lapse feature draws from 20 petabytes of satellite imagery, combined to create a 4.4-terapixel video (that is 4.4 million megapixels) that maps to the surface of the globe. Processing all that data took more than two million hours of computer time - shared among thousands of high-powered machines owned by Google to get the job done in a reasonable timeframe.

"As far as we know, time-lapse in Google Earth is the largest video on the planet, of our planet," the company said.

Google says that this new 3D time-lapse is a way to provide more context about the ways humans have affected the Earth. In the company’s featured time-lapsed videos, shorelines shift, glaciers recede, ice caps melt. The new tool may serve to raise awareness about our current climate crisis, a larger challenge is translating that awareness into action.

Google says it plans to update this new time-lapse project every year for at least the next decade.

Google Earth’s time-lapse feature is available today, worldwide.




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