Today we have satellite images that let us see how the Earth’s surface changes from year to year. That’s a short time frame on the scale of planetary shifts, but the images still show some striking trends, such as the recent shrinkage of the polar ice cap.
What if we had satellite imagery of the Earth going back thousands of years into the past? Or into the future?
A team at the Zurich School of Applied Sciences has created exactly that: an animated, and quite realistic-looking, map of the earth covering 21,000 years. From 19000 BC to 3000 AD, it shows the evolution of the Earth’s surface, including sea levels, coast lines, ice cover, and vegetation.
Timelapse of the Earth’s surface, 19000 BC – 3000 AD
— Max Galka (@galka_max) June 11, 2016
A few weeks ago I posted another graphic by the same team at ZHAW, which showed 24 hours of global air traffic condensed into a four-second flurry of yellow dots.
To fully appreciate this one, it’s worth watching it a few times. There are so many interesting things to notice, some very subtle, all happening at the same time
Interesting things to look out for
After watching the video several times, here are a few of the interesting things that caught my eye.
The land bridge between Russia and Alaska
Humans first arrived in the Americas sometime around 13000 BC after crossing the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska. You can see the Bering Strait land bridge in the video as it gradually submerges and disappears around 8000 BC.
The year 13000 BC is significant because before then, humans would not have been able to pass through the glaciers that covered Canada, also clearly visible on the map.
The Persian Gulf
Until about 8,000 years ago, there was no Persian Gulf, and therefore no Arabian Peninsula. The area between Saudi Arabia and Iran was just dry land.
Apparently, the land, which now lies at the bottom of the Persian Gulf, was fertile and home to highly developed human settlements.
The Fertile Crescent / Agricultural Revolution
The first human civilizations formed about 10,000 years ago in the Middle East, when the populations living there discovered agriculture and ceased living as hunter gatherers.
Today, the Middle East’s deserts are not so fertile. And as the map shows, the same was true 20,000 years ago. But in between, there was a period when the Middle East was green. And so was the Sahara Desert.
Population under water
As the map moves into the future and the world’s shorelines recede, the counter at the bottom tracks how much of today’s population would be living below sea level. By 3000 AD, it estimates the number to be 334 million (out of today’s population of 7 billion).
The change is not dramatic, and only noticeable in a few places when watching the video (e.g. Bangladesh). Though you can get a better look by zooming closer in the map below. See Florida and Louisiana.
Let me know if you spot any other interesting features.
Map of the Earth: 19000 BC, 2016 AD, 3000 AD (full screen version)
Zoom in to show present-day place names, borders, and coastlines.
More about my background
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