Google Earth Adds Time Lapse Video Using Landsat Imagery

By Chelsea Whyte on July 31, 2012 1:51 AM EDT

google earth
Google Earth's new time lapse video capability can show the sprawl of cities like Las Vegas, pictured growing in the desert above. (Photo: Carnegie Mellon)

Landsat satellites orbiting the Earth every 16 days since July 1972, snapping photos along the way. And now Google Earth is making those images available in time lapse videos that show the growth of cities, deforestation, and rising sea levels.

Along with researchers at Google and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute have created a tool for interactively exploring time-lapse imagery that allows anyone to easily access 13 years of NASA Landsat images of the Earth's surface.

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Using Google Earth, users can zoom in and out on any spot on the globe and can move back and forth in time.

"With them you can travel through time, from 1999-2011, to see the transformation of our planet - whether it's deforestation in the Amazon, urban growth in Las Vegas or the difference in snow coverage between the seasons," Google wrote in a post on its blog.

For the past 40 years, the Landsat program has continuously collected imagery of the Earth's surface and, since 2008, the USGS has made that imagery available free to the public. But accessing that data-measured in petabytes, or quadrillions of bytes-has long been cumbersome, says Randy Sargent, a system scientist in the Robotics Institute's CREATE Lab and a visiting researcher at Google, according to Futurity.org.

It is the longest-running record of the Earth's landscape that has ever been recorded, according to Mashable. The satellites travel pole to pole, capturing every inch of the surface of the globe. It allows scientists to monitor how the Earth changes over time and keep track of its health.

Landsat has provided a "thoroughly objective, continuous look at ourselves in the mirror since 1972," said Anne Castle, the Interior Department's assistant secretary for water and science, according to NBC News.

Landsat is not one satellite, but a succession of seven orbiters over the last four decades that all flew under the banner, reports Popular Mechanics. Landsat 7 is still in orbit taking photos, but it has been up there working since 2003 and will be retired soon. The next Landsat is supposed to blast into orbit next February.

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