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Google Earth’s new tool shows the Antarctica-melting ruins of climate change

April 15, 2021, 1:00 PM UTC

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Google Earth is debuting a new time-lapse tool that offers up 3D satellite images of the world spanning the past four decades.

People can use the feature to see the ravaging effects of climate change. In one instance, users can watch 12 miles of the Columbia Glacier in Alaska melt away from 1984 to 2020. Similarly, they can see the fastest-melting glacier in Antarctica, the Pine Island Glacier, disintegrate.

“We can objectively see global warming with our own eyes,” Rebecca Moore, director of Google Earth, said during a preview demonstration. “Time lapse distills [an] enormous archive of satellite data into an easily understandable picture of our changing planet. It makes the abstract concrete.”

A time-lapse image from Google Earth shows the melting of the Columbia Glacier in Alaska.
Courtesy of Google Earth

Google developed the new feature with help from government partners, including NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the European Commission, and the European Space Agency. The collaborators provided 24 million satellite images from the past 37 years.

People can explore the interactive maps independently or by using Google Earth’s Voyager, a guided tour of five thematic stories including rising global temperatures. People can also download 800 time-lapse videos Google Earth has made available in 2D and 3D.

Google Earth’s tool comes as the ruinous effects of climate change become clearer around the world. Wildfires in California are now regular emergencies, displacing thousands of people and saturating the air with dangerous levels of smoke and debris. Meanwhile, historic winter storms in Texas recently left millions of residents without heat and water and led to hundreds of deaths.

Satellite imagery helps scientists study things like the thickness of ice glaciers to explore a polar environment in flux. These images also serve as resources for educators to teach students about climate change. The Google Earth team is hoping the new time-lapse tool will help both professionals and the public get a better understanding of what’s at stake and inspire action.

“Time lapse and Google Earth sits at the nexus of science, technology, public-private partnerships, and the next generation as we think about both climate change and climate action,” Moore said. “It’s about taking a big step back to check in on the health and well-being of our only home.”

In addition to showing the effects of climate change, Google Earth’s time-lapse tool enables people to see the effects of deforestation across the Amazon, hurricanes in places like Cape Cod, and the vanishing Aral Sea in Kazakhstan. Google Earth said it plans to update the time-lapse tool with new satellite images at least once a year. 

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