Google Earth Engine and 40 years of Landsat data

As Apple and other companies continue to sue Google to slow/halt their growth into certain markets, Google is still finding ways to help the entire planet by sharing their technical infrastructure.

NASA started collecting images of Earth using the Landsat satellite system in 1972, and in the last 40 years the amount of data that has been accumulated is quite enormous.

The Landsat system is capable of mapping the entire planet surface every 16 days which means that there are 912 complete 1.7-terapixel images of our planet at a 30-meter resolution that not only need to be built/combined but the completed data maps also need to be compared over time.

Google’s infrastructure makes it possible to not only process the data much faster, but they can also make the information accessible to the public web where discovery and analysis can be crowd-sourced for free.

So far there’s been some very interesting work derived from the Landsat data using Google’s Earth Engine, and here’s three examples of human impacts on the planet that have been visualized by Landsat data analysis:

This time-lapse, built from Landsat captured satellite imagery from 1999 to 2011, shows the amazingly rapid growth of Las Vegas, Nevada. After watching the video it’s easy to see how Vegas is the fastest growing city in the United States for the past two decades.

Due to water diversion for irrigation and farming needs, the inland Aral Sea is shrinking at an amazing pace. Large portions were completely absent of water by as early as 2009 and these dry areas continue to grow today.

Providing land for farming, and clearing land for raising cattle, has caused the Amazon rainforest to shrink at a very shocking rate as you can see in this video.

For more time-line based Landsat data analysis you can go right to the Google Earth Engine page.

Sadly there’s zero examples of human activity improving the planet, which isn’t startling, but rather depressing. Perhaps someone wants to go take a look for something positive, like a rebuild of coral reef or something beneficial to the planet that humans have undertaken? I know I’d make a link to that.

UPDATE: Ahh speaking of 40 years of data, Greenland just hit a melt cycle that occurs roughly every ~150 years. The cycle this year will be the first time we’ve had satellite observation of the melt; all previous information is based on ice core samples.

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