How Humans Are Changing the Planet—in 7 Dramatic GIFs

Watch as Las Vegas booms, the Amazon disappears, and Dubai grows out into the sea.
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600px-NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-Earthrise-615.jpg

Google today released an "interactive timelapse experience" that allows users to explore millions of satellite images captured over the last quarter-century -- 25 years of immense growth and destruction. "We believe this is the most comprehensive picture of our changing planet ever made available to the public," Google said in a statement.

USGS imagery tape vault in Sioux Falls South Dakota - 3c.jpgUSGS

The project was built in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey, NASA, and TIME. The images come from the USGS-NASA's satellite program LANDSAT, which were often stored on tapes like those in the thumbnail to the right. Google started sorting through a collection of 2,068,467 images back in 2009 -- 909 terabytes of data, according to Google -- finding the highest quality pixels (which is to say, shots not obscured by clouds), "for every years since 1984 and for every spot on Earth." They then rendered that data into annual whole-Earth shots, 1.78 terapixels each. In the end, Google partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to create the HTML5 interactive, now available on Google's Timelpase site.

"Much like the iconic image of Earth from the Apollo 17 mission--which had a profound effect on many of us--this time-lapse map is not only fascinating to explore," Google Earth's Rebecca Moore writes, "but we also hope it can inform the global community's thinking about how we live on our planet and the policies that will guide us in the future."

Here are seven of the most dramatic changes, presented in GIF form. Rough scale estimations are available in the interactive.

Brazilian Amazon Deforestation.gif

Columbia Glacier Retreat.gif

Wyoming-Coal-Mining3.gif

Saudi Arabia Irrigation.gif

Lake Urmia Drying Up.gif

Las-Vegas-Urban-Growth3.gif

Dubai Coastal Expansion.gif
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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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