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Google timelapses offer a 32-year look at Earth's history

Google Earth Timelapse highlights both ever-changing nature and urban sprawl.

As static as it may seem, Earth is a lively planet that changes almost constantly -- and Google just offered a clever way to see that development with your own eyes. In a partnership with Time, it's introducing a dramatically improved version of Google Earth Timelapse that provides animated satellite imagery covering 32 years, going back to 1984 (4 years earlier than before). It uses the higher-resolution maps you saw in June to provide a look that's both more detailed and more seamless than before, with fewer abrupt changes in color and quality. There's also more to look at in the first place thanks to both added legacy satellite data and info from newer orbiters.

The resulting views help illustrate activity on Earth in a way that isn't apparent just by staring at static maps. You can see glaciers retreat in Antarctica, rivers reroute in Tibet, and tar sand mining expand in Canada. It's easy to see cities grow, too. Is this pure eye candy for most people? You bet. However, the hope is that this could also shine a light on environmental issues like climate change and urban sprawl. If you can witness humanity's long-term effect on Earth in a matter of seconds, you might be more inclined to do something about it.