June 28, 2013

As photojournalists, we document our world and the issues that are important to us. The images can inspire change and show people a new perspective. What happens when that perspective comes from 438 miles above Earth’s surface? What happens when the photojournalists capturing our world are actually satellites, constantly photographing Earth as they perpetually orbit our planet? Can these pictures still help make positive changes?

In an article titled “Timelapse: Evolving Earth” Time Magazine highlights the history of these bird’s eye view pictures of our planet and the impact they have. Natural resources, climate change, and urbanization have drastically changed the landscape of our planet in recent history. Compilations of millions of images have been made into videos to show this evolution. Google has worked with USGS (Landsat archive home) to create these comprehensive digital histories.

Left: Photo©2005_Ed Kashi/VII (Niger Delta, 2005 – Black Gold)
Right: Satellite Photo from Time Magazine (Niger River, Mali)

The images don’t only show damages done to earth, “There is some good news: central-pivot irrigation systems can be seen turning deserts into gardens, forming their own pixelated patterns as little circles of green appear, accumulate and expand. There are also the oil sands fields of Canada that pop up from nowhere and aren’t pretty to look at but are helping to free the U.S. and other countries from dependence on petro-dictators.” However, damage being done is clearly evident. The effects of deforestation, oil mining, and mountaintop-removal mining can be seen as the history of our planet progresses through satellite imagery. Access to this information can be crucial to the preservation of and restoration of Earth’s resources.

Left: Photo©2012_Ed Kashi/VII (New Jersey, 2012 – Hurricane Sandy)
Right: Still image from time-lapse video (Alaska, 2012 – Melting Glaciers)

Global warming has had enormous effects on our weather. 2012 was the hottest year in the US on record and close to the most volatile with natural disasters  like Superstorm Sandy barraging the country. Time-lapse images can show the broader scope of planet alteration as our climate changes. Clearly seen through melting glaciers, the planet continues to heat up resulting in quickly diminishing arctic landforms and rising water levels.

Left: Photo©2007_Ed Kashi/VII (India, 2007 – Golden Quadrilateral Highway)
Right: Still image from time-lapse video. (Dubai 2007, Urbanization)

Urbanization of cities like Shanghai, Dubai, and Las Vegas can be watched as images flash by revealing the explosion of buildings sprawling across the once untouched land. Although urbanization can have negative effects on the environment, “If urban migration is handled well — with smart city planning and environmental protection — it can actually be good for the planet.” Condensing the area of people using energy and the smaller number of children had by urbanites can lead to positive outcomes.

What does all of this mean for us? Eloquently put by Jeffrey Kluger, “For governments and environmental scientists, there is a lot of arcane data to extract from the maps and movies. For everyone else, there is something subtler but just as important: perspective. We tend our own tiny plots on Earth, our houses and yards often taking up less room than that infield-size pixel. It’s only when we get above ourselves — say, 438 miles above — that we can see how we’re changing our planet and begin to consider how we can be better stewards of it.” Exploring the issues our planet faces through images from both the ground and outerspace can help us make positive changes.

Read more on our changing planet and view more satellite images as time-lapse videos of Earth here.

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Categories: Educational, FM, General News