A new product powered by Google called Timelapse shows the Earth's surface changing over an extended period of time. Google made a deal with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in 2009, after the data became free to the public, to turn the images collected by Landsat into mini-movies.
NASA and the USGS began collecting photos of the Earth's surface in 1972 with the first satellite known as Landsat 1. According to NASA, this was the "first Earth-observing satellite that would study and monitor planet landmasses." The satellites can complete a full rotation of the Earth in 84.3 minutes, while snapping pictures the entire time. Landsat 8, which is scheduled to start collecting data on May 30, cost more than $800 million to build and launch, according to USGS Deputy Associate Director for Climate and Land Use Change, Sarah Ryker. NASA funds the build and launch, and the USGS funds ground systems and the distribution of data. According to the 2014 budget, Landsat satellites will be around in the future. Ryker said that they are working on a 20-year program that would keep satellites in space.
The Landsat data that is collected is not just used for Timelapse. National parks have used the data for wildfire severity maps, according to Ryker. States in the western U.S. rely on Landsat data to help monitor water resources in irrigated areas. The United States Department of Agriculture also uses the data to estimate domestic and global crop yields according to Ryker.
Timelapse gives the public the ability to see the Earth's surface change from any location over a 28-year period (1984 through 2012). The most recent Timelapse video shows deforestation in the Amazon, glacier retreat in Alaska and industrial advances in Las Vegas and Dubai.
Ryker said the data could be helpful because of the satellite's image resolution.
With the help of this data, scientists may be able to use Timelapse for climate research. “This is the kind of data that is uniquely qualified to improve our ability to understand past changes and anticipate future change,” she said.
AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Brett Anderson said this data could be beneficial to scientists and their research in climate change.
"This Timelapse video is extremely helpful in showing the actual, longer-term changes that are going on. Short-term changes are subject to more variation or noise which can mask the true signal," Anderson said.
Timelapse shows many cities environmentally changing very rapidly. One place in particular is the Columbia Glacier in Alaska. The Timelapse shows the glacier retreating quickly over the 28-year period. Anderson uses this as an example of how the Landsat data and Timelapse could be beneficial to climate change research.
"Climate change may not be having a significant role in this particular glacier's retreat as there are other, natural factors at work. The particular glacier is going to do what it wants regardless of what man does," he said.
Dr. Richard Alley, a geologist, and Evan Pugh, Professor of Geosciences from the Pennsylvania State University, said that the Timelapse footage was sobering.
"Deforestation, paving and other actions surely have local climate impacts," he said.
The images should make people want a call to action, according to Alley.
"There are many possible paths to a brighter future - the reality of climate change from our greenhouse gases does not dictate the proper response - but we benefit from a wise response," Alley said.
For more information on Timelapse check out www.world.time.com/timelapse/.
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