Harrowing Google Earth Timelapse images reveal climate change reality

Olivia Lambert
·News Editor
·3-min read

The dire impact climate change is having on the globe has been uncovered in harrowing new Google Earth images. 

While billions have turned to Google Earth to explore the planet for the past 15 years, the tech giant has now launched Timelapse, showing how the much the Earth has degraded over the past 37 years. 

Using 24 million satellite images from across almost four decades, the world has become witness to planetary change, with glaciers melting and coasts eroding right before our eyes. 

Images on Google Earth Timelapse show the recession of the Columbia Glacier retreat in Alaska by 20 kilometres due to global warming, and the rapid coastal expansion in a once untouched Dubai. 

The receded Columbia Glacier Retreat in Alaska as shown on on Google Earth Timelapse. Source: Google Earth
The Columbia Glacier Retreat in Alaska, shown on Google Earth Timelapse, has receded by 20 kilometres. Source: Google Earth

Forests near Bolivia have been transformed into villages and farms, a major cause of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. 

Looking at Australia's backyard, coastal erosion is evident at Wamberal on NSW Central Coast where wild weather wreaked havoc last July. 

Residents were urged to evacuate their luxury waterfront homes amid fears several houses could slip into the sea. 

The Google Earth images show a shrinking line of sand on the shoreline. 

'Changing planet right at our fingertips'

Google Earth Engine and Outreach Director Rebecca Moore said Timelapse was the biggest update to the system in four years. 

"You can now see our planet in an entirely new dimension – time," she wrote in a Google Earth product update. 

"Now anyone can watch time unfold and witness nearly four decades of planetary change.

"Our planet has seen rapid environmental change in the past half-century – more than any other point in human history.

"Many of us have experienced these changes in our own communities; I myself was among the thousands of Californians evacuated from their homes during the state's wildfires last year."

Images on the new Timelapse tool show coastal development in Dubai. Source: Google Earth
Images on the new Timelapse tool show coastal development in Dubai. Source: Google Earth

Ms Moore added for others, the effects of climate change felt more "abstract and far away".

"Like melting ice caps and receding glaciers," she said.

"With Timelapse in Google Earth, we have a clearer picture of our changing planet right at our fingertips – one that shows not just problems but also solutions, as well as mesmerisingly beautiful natural phenomena that unfold over decades." 

Five global realities in focus

Ms Moore said Timelapse specifically focused on forest change, urban growth, warming temperatures, sources of energy and the world's fragile beauty. 

"Climate change is causing more frequent and severe flooding, droughts, storms, and heatwaves as average global temperatures rise to new records," she said. 

Google Earth Timelapse shows the coast in Wamberal in 1984 (left) compared to 2020 (right). Source: Google Earth
The coast in Wamberal in 1984 (left) compared to 2020 (right) as shown on Google Earth Timelapse. Source: Google Earth

"Google Earth's Timelapse tool shows the change in coastlines, sprawling expansion of cityscapes and agricultural lands, as well as simultaneous recession of glaciers, forests and rivers.

"We hope that this perspective of the planet will ground debates, encourage discovery and shift perspectives about some of our most pressing global issues."

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