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Google Earth has added four years of new data along with high-resolution satellite imagery to its time-lapse feature, which is available to anyone who wants to see how the planet has changed since 1984. You'll see glaciers receding, cities growing and lakes shrinking.
Satellite data now ranges from 1984 to 2016 and includes more than 5 million satellite images from the past 32 years by five different satellites. Most of the images come from Landsat 8. Launched by NASA in 2013, it orbits 438 miles above the Earth, imaging the entire planet every 16 days. Additional images come from Sentinel-2, launched in 2015 by the European Space Agency to provide environmental monitoring.
Google combined these images into one cloud-free mosaic for each year. They are completely pannable and zoomable, and you can try it out for yourself with the Google Earth Engine time-lapse tour editor. Here's a sampling of some fascinating time-lapses provided by Google Earth Engine.
Watch how Fort McMurray has changed as tar sands oil development has grown. In May 2016, an out-of-control wildfire erupted in this area, causing the mass evacuation of 100,000 people:
This time-lapse reveals the rapid shrinkage of the Columbia Glacier in Alaska, which has retreated 10 miles since 1982:
The Aral Sea was once one of the four largest freshwater lakes in the world. By 2007, it had shrunk to one-tenth of its former size. Now, China's Poyang Lake is following the same fate:
Watch how Las Vegas has grown as Lake Mead has shrunk. A reservoir that serves 20 million people, it reached its lowest level ever in 2015:
China's city of Chongqing has grown to 30 million inhabitants, swallowing up the landscape:
International Rivers and Friends of the Earth International have teamed up to create a state-of-the-art Google Earth 3-D tour and video narrated by Nigerian activist Nnimmo Bassey, winner of the prestigious Right Livelihood Award. The production was launched on the first day of the COP17 climate meeting in Durban, South Africa. The video and tour allow viewers to explore why dams are not the right answer to climate change by learning about topics such as reservoir emissions, dam safety and adaptation while visiting real case studies in Africa, the Himalayas and the Amazon.
The Durban climate meeting is themed "saving tomorrow today." Yet a global dam boom being promoted by dam proponents—including dozens of megadams proposed for Africa’s major rivers—could make a mockery of this vision. "Healthy rivers are becoming an endangered species because of the impacts of large dams," said Jason Rainey, executive director of International Rivers. "There is no ‘tomorrow’ without rivers—we can’t adapt to a changing climate without them."
"Many African nations are dangerously dependent on hydropower, yet new dams are being built without any analysis of how climate change could affect their economic viability or their safety," said Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International and narrator of the Google Earth video. "Africa cannot afford dried-up reservoirs or dam collapses on top of the already high costs of adapting to a changing climate. We must develop climate-safe energy systems that improve lives, share the development wealth and help us all weather the coming storm."
Watch the video below and take action to protect rivers from climate change and dams:
Download the Google Earth Tour by clicking here.
Using state of the art animation, the Google Earth production illustrates three key reasons that large dams are the wrong response to climate change:
- River flows are increasingly unpredictable. Large dams have always been based on the assumption that future stream-flow patterns will mirror those of the past, but this is no longer true. Climate change has begun to significantly and unpredictably change precipitation patterns. More frequent droughts will make many hydropower projects uneconomic. More extreme rainfall will increase the risk of dam failures and catastrophic flood releases.
- Healthy rivers are critical for supporting life on Earth. Big dams make it harder for people and ecosystems downstream of dams to adapt to climate change by reducing water quality and quantity, drying up forests and wetlands, flooding productive land and destroying fisheries.
- Dam reservoirs emit greenhouse gases, especially in the tropics. Dam reservoirs are a globally significant source of one of the most potent gases, methane. Meanwhile, free-flowing rivers play a crucial role in helping trap carbon.
The tour illustrates how melting glaciers in the Himalayas—an effect of climate change—may lead to higher flood and safety risks for communities living downstream of dams. The tour plunges the viewer deep inside one of Brazil's dirtiest reservoirs, at the Tucuruí Dam, to visualize how rotting organic material creates methane gas, which bubbles up from dam reservoirs to emit greenhouse gases. The tour visualizes what smaller, decentralized projects would look like—an approach that could more efficiently meet energy and water needs in Africa, while also reducing the economic risks of drought-crippled dams and protecting life-giving rivers.
- Take action—10 Ways to Protect Rivers from Climate Change and Dams
- Read our fact sheet, Wrong Climate for Big Dams
- Read our report, World Bank, Climate Change, and Energy Financing: Something Old, Something New?
- Explore a map of 151 dams planned for the Amazon Basin
For more information, click here.