NASA time-lapse video shows life on Earth over 20 years

Since 1997, NASA satellites have continuously and globally observed all plant life at the surface of the land and ocean. (Vide: NASA)

A new time-lapse video has provided NASA scientists with the most complete global picture of life on Earth to date.

The time-lapse is made of 20 years of satellite data that has helped scientists track marine life, changes in vegetation, human development and more.

“We’ve never had data like these before,” said Dr. Compton Tucker, an earth scientist with NASA. “Half of our photosynthesis occurs in the oceans and the other half on land, and having these data to show both at the same time, day after day, month after month, year after year for 20 years, is a great tool to study life on Earth.”

The look at the planet’s land, ocean and atmospheric systems have given scientists an idea of global trends.

For example, they have observed that warmer surface temperatures have led to longer growing seasons at higher northern latitudes and earlier springs, according to Tucker.

“With satellite data, we’re able to map this consistently over the Earth’s surface,” he said.

Before the launch of the Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS) in 1997, Tucker said scientists relied on points of data at multiple weather stations to study life on Earth.

But with the more complete picture the Earth viewing satellites provide, scientists have been able to monitor large areas — observing a major drought in Texas in 2010 and the drought in California and the Pacific Northwest in 2015 and 2016.

The pulsing life apparent in the time-lapse might make our planet unique, but scientists say the data may help find life on other planets as well.

 “We have learned from our satellite studies of Earth that we need to look for water, and we need to look for gasses in the atmosphere like carbon dioxide and methane,” Tucker said.

Tucker said these gasses and water are fundamental to life on earth. So as we search for life on other planets, we have a starting point.

If you’d like to learn more and check out more data visualizations and graphics, visit Nasa.gov/earth.

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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