Google Earth time-lapse video shows the impact of humans and four decades of climate change on the planet

A time-lapse video feature launched by Google Earth has drawn on nearly four decades of satellite imagery to vividly illustrate how the impact of humans and climate change have affected the planet.

The tool, unveiled on Thursday, shows how humans' impact on the planet has changed glaciers, beaches and forests around the world.

Google says it undertook the complex project in partnership with several government agencies, including NASA and its European counterpart, in hopes that it will help a mass audience grasp the sometimes abstract concept of climate change in more tangible terms through its free Earth app.

The features, enabled by 24 million satellite photos compiled into a 4D experience, is the biggest update to Google Earth in five years.

Google Earth images of Dubai in 1985 (left) and 2020 (right). Credit: Google Earth

Cornell University climate scientist Natalie Mahowald described the tool as "amazing" after watching a preview video of the feature.

"Trying to get people to understand the scope of the climate change and the land use problem is so difficult because of the long time and spatial scales," she told the Associated Press.

"I would not be surprised if this one bit of software changes many people’s minds about the scale of the impact of humans on the environment."

Aral Sea in Kazakhstan in 1984 and 2020. Credit: Google Earth

Most scientists agree that climate change is being driven by pollution primarily produced by humans.

But earlier images have mostly focused on melting glaciers and haven’t been widely available on an already popular app like Google Earth, which can be downloaded on most of the more than three billion smartphones now in use around the world

Google is promising that people will be able to see a time lapse presentation of just about anywhere they want to search.

The feature also includes a storytelling mode highlighting 800 different places on the planet in both 2D and 3D formats.

Those videos also will be available on Google’s YouTube video site, a service more widely used than the Earth app.

Google plans to update the time lapse imagery at least once a year.