Toolbox Newsletter XXIV

April 20, 2021

A New Look for Google Earth Timelapse

I do SPJ digital trainings in newsrooms all over the country and among my favorite tools to share are the Google Earth tools. Reporters and editors love to dig into satellite imagery and other materials to produce great stories on the environment, urban growth, agriculture and more.

One of the best tools — Google Earth Timelapse — recently expanded and received some updates, making it even more powerful.

EarthEngine Timelapse launched about five years ago and layers 37 years of satellite imagery over the earth’s surface. A year-by-year, embeddable player lets you see how an area changes over time. The tool stitches together thousands of satellite imagery from NASA, the US Geological Survey and other organizations. It takes millions of hours to process these images, so updates come along slowly.

In mid-April, Google expanded the image library to include 2019 and 2020, so it now shows images from the California and Australia wildfires, 2019 Midwest flooding and more.

Google also incorporated timelapse into its Google Earth browser-based tool. It has limitations: no embedding, limited locations (though growing) and no video export, though you can screen record. You cannot control the speed of the timelapse, but the image sharpness is crisp, and you can look at an area from various angles. It’s a good alternative to the embeddable player.

Both the BBC and CNN featured the changes to the tools and how they can be used.

One question journalists often ask me during a training is if they can use images from Google Earth. The answer: Yes.

The images come from federal agencies that collect our tax dollars. All Google asks is to keep its watermark on the images or credit it in a cutline or video text card. For more, consult the Google Permissions page.

This video highlights some of the Timelapse changes:

In Quotes …

“A free press is the unsleeping guardian of every other right that freemen prize.” – Winston Churchill


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