Google Earth is still updated

Google Earth: "Biggest update in years" shows the consequences of climate change in fast motion

It is and remains one of the most fascinating services from Google: In Google Earth and Google Maps there are now - regularly updated - satellite images of more than 98 percent of the earth. In view of this, the developers behind it have now looked for a new task, specifically: adding a fourth dimension to Google Earth. The time.

Changes

From now on, satellite photos from 37 years are available directly on Google Earth - a total of 24 million of them. Rebecca Moore, head of the Google Earth project, announces that this means that it is possible to observe in time lapse how the respective environment has changed over the course of the last few decades for every location on the planet.

This is made possible through cooperation with various organizations. The US space agency Nasa and the United States Geological Survey contribute all images from their Landsat satellites. Also included are the European counterparts, i.e. the Copernicus program of Esa and the EU or specifically the photos created by Sentinel-2A and Sentinel-2B.

Climate change

During a press conference in advance, all those involved made no secret of the motivation for this cooperation between companies and public institutions: Last but not least, it is about making the effects of human-made changes on the planet visible - and thus also climate change. After all, it is one thing to read about such changes, but something completely different to see them in front of you, as Liza Goldberg, Nasa Biospheric Research Lead, emphasizes. It is accordingly important to make such recordings as easily accessible to the general public as possible, emphasizes the researcher, who started her work at NASA at the age of 14.

True to this motto, Google has created 800 timelapse videos in which the development is demonstrated using selected locations. The spectrum ranges from deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and the retreat of glaciers to the expansion of Las Vegas to the rapid expansion of individual urban zones. All of these videos are available in a 2D and a 3D version, which are available on YouTube. In addition, there are interactive tours based on the new data via the Voyager function, which Google Earth is already using for selected narratives.

Calculations

The computational effort for the creation of these videos was enormous, underlines Google. More than two million computing hours were completed on thousands of computers in the Google Cloud. After all, 20 petabytes of satellite images would be merged into a large "video mosaic" with a size of 4.4 terapixels. In order not to thwart its own environmental message, the company quickly emphasizes that the calculations were only carried out in those of its own data centers that are supplied with 100 percent renewable energies.

If you are familiar with the name Timelapse in connection with Google Earth, you are not mistaken - a similar feature was first presented in 2013, but at that time still externally with the help of the Google Earth Engine. Now the whole thing is not only available directly in Google Earth, the images have also been combined with the 3D view of the world and, of course, have been further updated. The videos mentioned are of course also new.

Update

Google also emphasizes that the data will be updated annually in the future. In addition, the researchers point out that these satellite images naturally offer considerably fewer details than what is known from overflight recordings in Google Maps and Co. In this case, it is not about zooming in, but about zooming out, says Moore. Because only with a step back is it possible to recognize the growing ecological footprint of humanity, but also to think about solutions based on facts. (Andreas Proschofsky, April 15, 2021)