According to popular myth, the Great Wall of China is the only man-made object visible from space. In fact, until recently, no evidence of human habitation was visible from outside of Earth’s atmosphere.

The first true source of big data is the Earth itself. The combined force of innovations in machine learning, processor networking and real-time web browsing enable anyone with an internet connection to interactively browse disruptive planetary change for the first time.

At the Annual Meeting of New Champions this year, we profiled these technologies in the Earth Time-Lapse space, where participants embarked on a visual exploration of our planet, revealing humanity’s impact on the environment of the last three decades, focused on the following themes:

Asia’s Industrialization

Time-lapse satellites images from NASA’s Landsat program and Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) collect regular photographic evidence of urban change and the expansion of industrial operations across Asia:

The Future of Forests

A combination of Landsat time-lapse images and graphic overlays demonstrate changes in forest use, deforestation, and replanting across the globe. By overlaying the geographic locations of national parks, we can see the effectiveness of preservation efforts over time:

The Race for Resources

From open-pit coal mining to mountaintop removal and fracking, satellite time-lapse imagery demonstrates the spread of various forms of resource extraction around the globe:

The Climate Crisis

The effects of climate change on the planet are readily seen across the globe, from glacial retreat to the destruction of pine forests in Colorado due in part to warmer temperatures that allow beetles to move to higher altitudes:

Data courtesy of Berkeley Earth, Carnegie Mellon University, Google Earth Engine, NASA, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, University of Maryland and USGS.

The Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2015 took place in Dalian, China, from 9-11 September.

Authors: Illah Nourbakhsh, Professor, Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, USA; Randy Sargent, Senior Systems Scientist, Carnegie Mellon University, USA

Image: The sun reflects off the water in this picture taken by German astronaut Alexander Gerst from the International Space Station and sent on his Twitter feed July 17, 2014. REUTERS/Alexander Gerst/NASA/Handout via Reuters