Friday, May 23, 2014

Viewing global changes since 1984

This goes hand in hand with my previous theme of what a long strange trip it's been.  Google Earth and TIME working together with NASA Landsat images created a fantastic resource for visually exploring changes on this planet since 1984.  
A special touch is "Explore The World" where you can type in any location on the Earth and after some computing the time-lapse of your selected area begins.  You can control the speed and zoom in:
TIME and Space | By Jeffrey Kluger
"… That changed when NASA created the Landsat program, a series of satellites that would perpetually orbit our planet, looking not out but down. Surveillance spacecraft had done that before, of course, but they paid attention only to military or tactical sites. Landsat was a notable exception, built not for spycraft but for public monitoring of how the human species was altering the surface of the planet. 
Two generations, eight satellites and millions of pictures later, the space agency, along with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), has accumulated a stunning catalog of images that, when riffled through and stitched together, create a high-definition slide show of our rapidly changing Earth. TIME is proud to host the public unveiling of these images from orbit, which for the first time date all the way back to 1984. ...
It took the folks at Google to upgrade these choppy visual sequences from crude flip-book quality to true video footage. With the help of massive amounts of computer muscle, they have scrubbed away cloud cover, filled in missing pixels, digitally stitched puzzle-piece pictures together, until the growing, thriving, sometimes dying planet is revealed in all its dynamic churn. 
The images are striking not just because of their vast sweep of geography and time but also because of their staggering detail. Consider: a standard TV image uses about one-third of a million pixels per frame, while a high-definition image uses 2 million. The Landsat images, by contrast, weigh in at 1.8 trillion pixels per frame, the equivalent of 900,000 high-def TVs assembled into a single mosaic. 
These Timelapse pictures tell the pretty and not-so-pretty story of a finite planet and how its residents are treating it — razing even as we build, destroying even as we preserve. It takes a certain amount of courage to look at the videos, but once you start, it’s impossible to look away."
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Another resource not to miss is NASA's Images Of Change
"Each week our State of Flux gallery features images of different locations on planet Earth, showing change over time periods ranging from centuries to days. Some of these effects are related to climate change, some are not. Some document the effects of urbanization, or the ravage of natural hazards such as fires and floods. All show our planet in a state of flux."
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Here's some interesting reading if you're looking for actual numbers, well estimates, of what it takes, materially, {plant mass and animal mass and such} to support human populations.  Gets a bit technical but it's a good introduction to some of the complexities of human impacts on our environment… planet.

Harvesting the Biosphere: The Human Impact 
Vaclav Smil 
The human species has evolved to become the planet’s dominant organism in what has been, on the biospheric time scale of billions of years, a very brief period. less than 2.5 million years have elapsed since the emergence of our genus (with Homo habilis), and Homo sapiens became identifiable about 200,000 years ago (lewin 2005). the shift from subsistence foraging (hunt- ing and gathering) to settled existence energized by cultivated plants and domesticated animals began shortly after the end of the last glaciation (less than 10,000 years ago); afterward our capacities for expansion, extraction, production, and destruction began to grow rapidly with the emergence of the first complex civilizations. ... 
… these comparisons make it clear that the human species has been highly productive. in its quotidian mental detachment from nature, modern civiliza- tion sees that its fortunes depend on securing incessant and affordable sup- plies of modern forms of energy in general and fossil fuels in particular (hence the concerns about “running-out” or “peak oil”), and on the availability of a wide range of non-energy minerals. But first things first: photosynthesis will always remain the most important energy conversion on earth, and without newly formed plant tissues (phytomass) no heterotrophic life—whether the simple unicellular solitary organisms or complex insect, mammalian, and human societies—would be possible.our phytomass harvests go beyond the metabolic needs to  . . .  {Then Smil starts into the details.}

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