Eye in the sky

NASA images show before-and-after scenes of Earth

RUSHING WATER  Typhoon Nari made landfall in mid-October 2013 after heavy seasonal rains, flooding areas along the Mekong and Tonlé Sap Rivers in Cambodia.


As many a medieval castle-builder knew, the view from above is a privileged one.

Now, with its free Images of Change iPad app and online gallery, NASA makes the aerial perspective available to all, with results both stunning and disturbing.

For several decades, the agency’s Earth-observing satellites have been capturing dramatic views of land-changing events such as fires, tornadoes and mudslides. To see individual glaciers receding, however, the app’s ground-based photos showing green meadows replacing icebergs make the point best.

Urban change proves equally profound: An 1830s map alongside a satellite view of modern Boston shows that some of the country’s most expensive real estate occupies land that, until fairly recently, was underwater. 

A lush meadow grows (bottom, summer 2005) where icebergs calved a century earlier in Alaska (top, summer 1917). Louis H. Pedersen, NSIDC; Bruce F. Molnia, NSIDC

Only some images are categorized as “human impact,” but nearly all of the changes on land — forest fire, glacier melt, flooding — clearly have a human component.

NASA does not explicitly make this point, but upon even a casual wander through the gallery, it makes itself.

More Stories from Science News on Earth