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30 Years of City Growth Seen From Space

China's now-industrialized Pearl River Delta, seen in October 1973 (top) and January 2003 (bottom)

China’s now-industrialized Pearl River Delta, seen in October 1973 (top) and January 2003 (bottom.) Vegetation appears red in these images.

Since the launch of its first satellite in 1972, the eight NASA/USGS Landsat satellites have made the longest continuous observations of Earth’s surface, providing invaluable data for research in agriculture, geology, forestry, regional planning, education, mapping, global change research, as well as important emergency response and disaster relief information. In addition, having such a long span of data allows us to easily see the expansion of human development in many areas — unprecedented before-and-after views of city growth seen from space.

These images, taken over the course of the Landsat program, illustrate the visible impact of over three decades of human development:

Chandler, Arizona imaged in 1985 (top) and 2011 (bottom.)  As its economy shifted from agriculture to manufacturing and electronics, Chandler's population multiplied 8 times to over 236,000.

Chandler, Arizona imaged in 1985 (top) and 2011 (bottom.) As its economy shifted from agriculture to manufacturing and electronics, Chandler’s population multiplied 8 times to over 236,000.

The explosion of Istanbul's population from 2 to 3 million people is evident in these Landsat images, comparing 1975 to 2011. Vegetation appears red in the imaging wavelengths used here.

The explosion of Istanbul’s population from 2 to 13 million people is evident in these Landsat images, comparing 1975 to 2011. Vegetation appears red in the imaging wavelengths used here.

A few years ago one of the fastest-growing cities in the US, Las Vegas is seen here in images taken in 1984 (top) and 2011 (bottom.) The sprawling development -- as well as the decrease in water level of Lake Mead -- is evident.

A few years ago one of the fastest-growing cities in the US, Las Vegas is seen here in images taken in 1984 (top) and 2011 (bottom.) The sprawling development — as well as the decrease in water level of Lake Mead — is evident.

Some of the most dramatic -- and rapid --  changes have occurred in Dubai, whose artificial offshore islands suddenly appear between images taken in 2000 (top) and 2010 (bottom.) Once barely visible against the desert landscape, Dubai is now an international center of business, tourism, and oil production.

Some of the most dramatic — and rapid — changes have occurred in Dubai, whose palm- and continent-shaped artificial islands suddenly appear between images taken in 2000 (top) and 2010 (bottom.) Once barely visible against the desert landscape, Dubai is now an international center of business, tourism, and oil production.

See more of these images on NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Flickr album here.

The Landsat Program is a series of Earth-observing satellite missions jointly managed by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. In 1972, the launch of ERTS-1 (Earth Resources Technology Satellite, later renamed Landsat 1) started the era of a series of satellites that have since continuously acquired space-based land remote sensing data.

The latest satellite in the Landsat series, the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) — now named Landsat 8 — was launched on February 11, 2013. Landsat 8 data is now available free to the public online here.

Read more on the USGS Landsat mission page here.

Image credits: USGS/NASA

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Joshua John Jackowski July 29, 2013, 5:17 PM

    awesome story.

  • dwdeclare July 30, 2013, 6:17 AM

    more people, more scars upon the land.

  • Fons Jena July 30, 2013, 3:23 PM

    Great visualization of population growth and overpopulation. The fact that we still can’t limit our populations and physical expansion tells us that we are still a very primitive civilization.

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