Google Earth adds time-lapse video to depict climate change

Video feature uses satellite imagery to show climate change at affected natural spaces around globe

FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2014, file photo, houseboats float in the drought-lowered waters of Oroville Lake near Oroville, Calif. Rainstorms grew more erratic and droughts much longer across most of the U.S. West over the past half-century as climate change warmed the planet, according to a sweeping government study released, Tuesday, April 6, 2021, that concludes the situation in the region is worsening.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
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The Google Earth app is adding a video feature that uses almost four decades of satellite imagery to show how climate change affected glaciers, beaches, forests and other places around the world.

The tool, unveiled on Thursday, is said to be the biggest update to Google Earth in five years.

Google says it undertook the complex project in partnership with several government agencies, including Nasa in the US and the European Space Agency.

It says it hopes to help a mass audience grasp the sometimes abstract concept of climate change in a more tangible way.

Cornell University climate scientist Natalie Mahowald believes that mission may be accomplished.

“This is amazing,” Ms Mahowald told AP after watching a preview of the new feature.

“Trying to get people to understand the scope of climate change and land use problem is so difficult because of the long time and spatial scales.

"I would not be surprised if this one bit of software changes many people’s minds about the scale of the impact of humans on the environment.”

This is not the first time time-lapse satellite imagery has been used to show how parts of the world are changing before our eyes because of global warming.

But earlier images mostly focused on melting glaciers and were widely available on an established app such as Google Earth, which can be downloaded on most of the more than three billion smartphones in use around the world

Google is promising that people will be able to see a presentation of just about anywhere they want to search.

The feature includes a storytelling mode highlighting 800 places on the planet in 2D and 3D formats.

Those videos will be available on Google's YouTube video site, a service more widely used than the Earth app.

The feature was created from 24 million satellite images taken every year from 1984 to 2020 and provided by Nasa, the US Geological Survey and the EU, Google said.

The time-lapse technology was created with the help of the Carnegie Mellon University.

Google plans to update the time-lapse imagery at least once a year.