Three decades of urban growth and planetary change in three seconds

Dual-photo composite of changes in Seattle as seen on Time Magazine's Timelapse.

Dual-photo composite of changes in Seattle as seen on Time Magazine’s Timelapse.

(Adapted from an article I published at

We use satellite imagery every day to view weather systems from space, but when the clouds clear, many satellites scan the earth photographing the amazing diversity of live on earth.

Many of the changes to the planet take thousands or millions of years, but not where humans are active.

Time Magazine has launched Timelapse powered by Google, a searchable and navigable timelapse of Landsat imagery across the globe from 1984 to 2002.

While our typical weather satellite imagery you see on television is viewed from geosynchronous orbit at around 22,000 miles above the earth, Landsat land imaging satellites orbit from pole-to-pole many times per day at an altitude of a bit more than 400 miles — about double the orbital altitude of the International Space Station.

A straight flight of 400 miles from Seattle would put you in northern California, but Landsat’s 400-plus mile high cameras are powerful enough to see large buildings, stadiums, highways and the growth of an urban area.

How to Use Timelapse

Head to the Timelapse website at .

Under the header, you’ll see some suggestions like Dubai, the Columbia Glacier, the Amazon and Las Vegas.

Select one of these, or “Explore the World.”

Under “Explore the World,” enter in any location just as you might on any online map site (e.g. Seattle, WA).

The timelapse will load, with a time slider at the bottom and a zoom in and out feature at top left.

Have fun! – MP

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