These Shocking Google Earth Images Show How Quickly The Planet Is Changing

A lake disappears. The desert turns to concrete. See the changes humanity has wrought in the landscape.

It’s one thing to talk about changes to the planet in the abstract, and another to see them happen in simple before-and-after shots. That’s the power of a new exhibit that uses aerial photos from Google Earth to show changes in places like the Aral Sea, which was once one of the world’s largest lakes, but dried up completely this year for the first time.


The exhibit, which opens November 20 at the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen, was the brainchild of urban planner Kasper Brejnholt Bak, who had become obsessed with scouring Google Earth in his spare time.

“He’d been looking at Google Earth from a planner’s perspective, and he was the one finding these fascinating photos,” says Kristina Neel Jakobsen from the Danish Architecture Centre. “We started looking at all of these pictures and finding some common themes–food, energy, transportation, and water.”

Some of the images show a single current view of a particular place, like the port in Singapore, which handles 100,000 containers in a single day, or rooftop gardens in Havana, Cuba, a city which grows 90% of its produce within its borders. But the most interesting images are the before-and-after pairs.

In the Brazilian rainforest, Google Earth had archived satellite image from 1975, when deforestation was just beginning. In the second image, from 2008, the land is covered with huge cattle ranches and soy fields. In the last decade, Brazil lost an area of forest about the size of Colorado every year.

In a neighborhood in Dubai, a 2003 image shows large swaths of empty sand. By this year, the land was almost entirely covered with new highways and skyscrapers.

Instead of hanging the photos on the wall, the exhibit will light up each image on the ground in a dark room, so visitors can see them from above. Each photo will be paired with facts.


“We’re hoping it will be a bit thought-provoking to see how the Earth is changing, and be reminded that our resources are not infinite,” says Jakobsen.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.