Google Earth now has a time lapse function

Google Earth has a timelapse function now! Watch a timelapse of every location on the globe and see how it has developed over time!
Thomas Poecksteiner

Thomas Poecksteiner

Co-Founder of FilmSpektakel and Time Lapse Magazine

Since all of us here are time lapse enthusiasts, we reckoned this might be of interest to you. Google Earth now has a time lapse function! Last week, Google released a major update of their service Google Earth, which includes a time lapse feature. How cool is that!

What is it?

The service is called “Google Earth Timelapse”, and it’s essentially a global, interactive video map. It lets you zoom to every location on the globe and watch a time lapse video of how landscapes and cities have changed over the past 37 years! To achieve this, Google used the image data of five different satellites. Both NASA and the European Copernicus Programme took part in this project.

How did they do it?

Firstly, the programmes delivered over 24 million high-resolution satellite images from between 1984 and 2020. After that, Google prepared these images in a way so they could be uploaded to the “Earth Engine”, where they got mapped onto a 3D model of our globe. All images had to be located in the right place, in the right scale and in the right perspective. It took thousands of Google’s “Google Cloud” computers and over two million hours to map these unbelievable 20 petabytes of footage together. So, try to remember this the second before you start complaining about the render times of your next time lapse project 😉

What does it show?

The whole point of this project is to document how our planet changes over time. Google has promised to upload new data from now on, every year. Therefore, it is now possible to watch how landscapes change in natural ways. But, more importantly, you will get a visualisation of how we humans shape the world. And this brings me to the second point:

Going back in time to 1984 sounds very impressive at first. But as a time lapse photographer, you might already have started calculating in your head: 37 years, one image per year, equals 37 images. A time lapse video of 37 images is rather short. And 37 years is nothing compared to how long our planet has existed. But you won’t believe how much the world has changed in this relatively brief period. And we humans have played a significant role in that. Unfortunately, mostly in a negative way. Take a look at these examples we pulled from Google Earth Timelapse:

Dubai 1984-2020
Deforestation Itauba, Brazil
Deforestation to benefit soy plantations in Bolivia

What can you do with it?

So, let’s discuss the really interesting part: what can you do with it? For one, you can be an observer. There is a curated section already which highlights the most impressive developments of the past years. It not only gives you the visual time lapse, but also a brief explanation of what you are looking at. Just open Google Earth in your browser and navigate to “Voyager”.

Furthermore, you can capture time lapses yourself of any given location on the globe and share them with the world. In addition to that, you can download them and use them in your own movies and videos!

For example, filmmaker Liza Goldberg used time lapses pulled from Google Earth for her documentary “Nature Now”, which is about the increasing human footprint on our dear planet.

About this project

Time Lapse Magazine is a platform for the growing community of time lapse photographers and enthusiasts.


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