In 1984 Madonna ruled the airwaves, Apple's Macintosh personal computer went on sale, Iran accused Iraq of using chemical weapons, and The Chicago White Sox defeated the Milwaukee Brewers 7-6 in the longest game in Major League Baseball history. That's what happened on a micro level. In 1984, however, the Earth, as always, was changing, shifting, growing, and shrinking. That's the year when NASA had the foresight to capture it all, through the Landsat program, a series of satellites it launched into space to take images of our transforming planet.
Two generations, eight satellites and millions of pictures later, NASA, in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey, have compiled a remarkable catalog of their visual findings that show how our planet has evolved on a macro level. Partnering with Google, they've released these images to the public both as stills and videos that show the world through time lapsed footage.
While a picture tells a thousand words, the quality of the Landsat pictures are worth even more. The type of high-definition images we see daily use 2 million pixels per frame, whereas the Landsat images are 1.8 trillion pixels—high definition to the most extreme degree. They were taken over the course of 41 years, with each satellite orbiting the Earth every 84.3 minutes, revisiting the same part of the planet on average once every 16 days.
The images reveal a paradox. On the one hand they tell the story of man and great civilizations: we build up, around, and out (we watch Dubai create entirely new towns into the ocean); yet we destroy the very land we want to live upon. You can literally watch the Amazon rainforest disappear, glaciers retreat, Lake Mead in Las Vegas shrink, mountaintops are decapitated by mining companies, and loggers carve into forests. The shots are at once beautiful and disturbing. The takeaway is that we now have a tool to see up close just how devastating the effects of climate change are. And with that information, hopefully it will encourage us all to be stewards of change whether in our own backyards—on the micro level—or on a larger, macro level.
Images via NASA/USGS