More about the new Landsat / Sentinel 2 data in Google Earth

Yesterday Google surprised us by adding global mosaics created from Landsat and Sentinel 2 data to the Google Earth’s ‘historical imagery’. The data comes to Google Earth via Google Earth Engine, which has long had this time-lapse feature that has just been updated to include imagery up to 2016. The timelapse page also tells us more about the imagery:

Using Earth Engine, we combined over 5 million satellite images acquired over the past three decades by 5 different satellites. The majority of the images come from Landsat, a joint USGS/NASA Earth observation program that has observed the Earth since the 1970s. For 2015 and 2016, we combined Landsat 8 imagery with imagery from Sentinel-2A, part of the European Commission and European Space Agency’s Copernicus Earth observation program.”

Google Earth Engine has also published this post about the update.

On Friday we will release a KML file that will allow you to view similar time-lapses from directly within Google Earth.

Today we are making a few observations about the imagery.

The first observation comes from GEB reader ‘haflaa’ who points out that although the mosaics are global for every year between 1985 and 2016, there are some locations, such as the Maldives, where the imagery is identical for a number of years. In the case of the Maldives, the imagery is identical from 1985 to 1999.

We also note that the Google Earth Engine animation starts in 1984, whereas the Google Earth data starts with December 1985 (which we presume represents the data for the whole of 1985).

The path of the satellite is often noticeable in the imagery. For more on the orbit of the Landsat satellites see this post and this post.

In many locations you will notice narrow stripes in the imagery. This is because of a faulty part on the Landsat 7 satellite. Learn more about it in this post.

The mosaics are created by trying to select imagery from throughout a given year then selecting cloud and snow free pixels where possible. However, there are a few locations on earth that are almost always cloudy, a problem we discussed in this post.


This location in Cameroon features both Landsat 7 stripes and clouds that just could not be eliminated.

Timothy has been using Google Earth since 2004 when it was still called Keyhole before it was renamed Google Earth in 2005 and has been a huge fan ever since. He is a programmer working for Red Wing Aerobatx and lives in Cape Town, South Africa.

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