A new timelapse tool released this month by Google provides Fresno residents with a stark reminder of just how quickly much of the city's nearby agriculture land has been replaced by homes, shopping centers and freeways.
The Google "Earth Engine" uses archival satellite photos from NASA's Landsat and other sources to create interactive timelapse videos of how the planet's geography has changed over time. In addition to NASA, other project partners include the U.S. Geological Survey and TIME.
While the project's homepage features sample videos of the decline of the Amazon rainforest and disappearing glaciers, the changes in the San Joaquin Valley are dramatic on their own. This timelapse image of Fresno from 1984-2012 shows some remarkable changes. They include the emergence of freeways 41, 180 and 168, and the virtual disappearance of farmland in what is today north Fresno, and to the east in Clovis. The images show the area north of Herndon avenue as largely un-developed in 1984, and also depict a dramatic increase in gravel mining along the San Joaquin River.
For much of the recent past, Fresno was one of the nation's fastest growing cities. According to the state's Department of Finance, Fresno's population grew by 94 percent from 1984 to 2008, while Clovis grew by 150 percent. Today Fresno's official population is just over 500,000. In 1984, just 274,000 people called the city home.
In a statement on the company's official blog, Google says the new tool is "is the most comprehensive picture of our changing planet ever made available to the public."
The company says it hopes the tool will help inform future discussions about the environment.
Much like the iconic image of Earth from the Apollo 17 mission—which had a profound effect on many of us—this time-lapse map is not only fascinating to explore, but we also hope it can inform the global community’s thinking about how we live on our planet and the policies that will guide us in the future.
A similar timelapse image shows the rapid pace of growth in Bakersfield over the same time period.