SciTech

EarthTime visualizes human impact on the planet

Carnegie Mellon University and the World Economic Forum (WEF) jointly launched a new website to the public, EarthTime.org, on Earth Day, April 22, 2018.

The interactive website allows people to view images of the entire world and the visual impact that humans have made (and continue to make) on the planet. Images captured by NASA satellites cover a period from 1986 to 2016.

EarthTime was created in a partnership between Carnegie Mellon’s Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment Lab (CREATE Lab), and the WEF to provide visual evidence of how humans’ decisions have changed the planet. The initiative hopes to help global leaders make well-informed and accurate decisions that impact the Earth.

“EarthTime is a means to tell stories,” said Illah Nourbakhsh in a university press release. Nourbakhsh is a Carnegie Mellon professor of robotics and director of the CREATE Lab as part of the university’s Robotics Institute and has spearheaded EarthTime’s development over the last decade. He also serves as a WEF Global Steward. “The impact of humanity can be seen globally and in individual communities — and at every scale in between.”

The website features interactive, educational animations called "Stories" that cover different topics about human-environment interaction, including deforestation, urbanization, and glacier retreat.

“You really can’t understand climate change, migration or major social and political trends without examining their connections across time, across space and between each other,” added Nourbakhsh. “EarthTime enables you to do that.”

EarthTime continues to grow and incorporate numerous data sets from different institutional sources across the world. It uses data from government agencies such as NASA and the U.S. Census, non-government agencies like the United Nations, and private institutions, including Oxford University, Harvard University, and the University of Maryland.

Before this public launch, EarthTime had been used within institutions since 2015 at annual WEF events around the world to visualize, analyze, and understand the most important global issues today. But, by going public, the platform can now be used by anyone who wants to know more about how the world has changed, and what they should do about it.