I don’t know if you’ve ever had a play with something called “Google Earth”? It’s separate from Google Maps and all the practical route planning and whatnot you can do with that. Instead it’s just like a really detailed, digital globe.
It shows you the surface of the planet in all its glory, using a combination of satellite imagery, aerial photography and some very fancy software.
The newest addition to Google Earth is a feature they call “Timelapse”, and it lets you see how the Earth has changed over the last 35 years. It’s a huge timelapse video of the whole planet, made up of one photo from each year from 1984 onwards. As the video plays, you can zoom in and out and move around the world to see different places in different levels of detail.
The scale of the thing is amazing.
You can watch natural changes, like dunes shifting in the Sahara or rivers snaking around as their path changes over the years. And man-made changes – one of the most spectacular of those I think is watching Dubai grow up from just a little strip of buildings between the desert and the sea.
There are a few different ways to see the Timelapse:
- On a phone or tablet, you can download the Google Earth app for free from your app store.
- In Google Chrome on a PC or Mac, you can go to the Google Earth website – earth.google.com – and launch it straight from there.
- You can download an offline version of it to run on your computer – again from the Google Earth website.
- Or if you just want to see the Timelapse and not bother with the rest of Google Earth, you can try the Earth Engine version (I found that this one was quicker to load and a bit smoother if you don’t have the best internet connection).
Once you’re in Google Earth, you turn on the Timelapse feature by clicking or tapping on “Voyager” from the menu (it has an icon that looks like an old-fashioned ship’s wheel) and then choosing “Timelapse”.
Then just have a look around. Google have picked out various interesting bits that you can zoom straight to, but the whole globe is visible. You can zoom in and out, pan around, pause and restart the timelapse as much as you like. Some of the bits that Google points out are quite sobering – rainforests and glaciers disappearing at an alarming rate – but there are plenty of positive highlights, too.
If you’re using the online version, you’ll need a pretty fast internet connection, or it might struggle to keep up. The video does just keep looping, though, so don’t worry if you miss a bit while you’re waiting for the picture to load.