A Change of Scenery

Satellite imagery captures humanity’s dramatic impact on the earth’s surface.

For more than 40 years, NASA (and, since 2013, the U.S. Geological Survey) has enlisted Landsat satellites to continuously document our home planet—kind of like an extreme, orbital version of the selfie stick. This unbroken record, consisting of millions of images of the earth’s surface, helps scientists track environmental changes over time.

This video by Vox strings together pictures taken from 1972 to 2014 to show how deforestation, water use, urban sprawl, electricity, and climate change have dramatically altered certain landscapes. Though the footage focuses on just five areas on this big planet, human activity has had a visible impact on countless others—and the stories that emerge from the Landsat program’s data often aren’t pretty. I think we can all agree that the earth deserves a better set of before-and-after shots.


onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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