Monday, March 12, 2012

Travel through time with Google Earth

I was comparing a photograph of the Scranton skyline to the Google Earth view of the same scene when I noticed something I've never seen before: a little "1992" near the lower left edge of the Google Earth window. When I hovered over it, the message "Click to see historical imagery from 1992" appeared. Clicking there. I was treated to an old-school black-and-white satellite image of the region from those ancient days before the Internet as we know it existed. But now near the top of the image a bar appeared with setpoints, and forward and back arrows. I could step through all the Google Earth historical images for this view!

The possibilities raced through my head. I thought of the questions I have had that could have been answered with such a tool. One question was, "How much has fracking changed the landscape of Northeastern Pennsylvania?" I immediately traveled to Susquehanna County near Montrose, an area in Northeastern Pennsylvania that has enthusiastically allowed itself to be fracked extensively.  I skipped through the images and found two that addressed my question. Here is an image from October 17, 2008:

And here is that same area less than three years later, on October 7, 2011:

See all the little white squares that have popped up? Those are drilling pads. What was a rolling landscape of farmlands just a few years ago is now fracking territory.

I thought of  a question closer to home. What about the huge bald spot that has appeared on Plymouth Mountain, looming over Nanticoke? It's been there for a few years, but it hasn't been there forever. But what has been there for many years, I'm told, mostly hidden from view, is a strip mine pit that caught my eye (on Google Earth) for the first time a few weeks ago. Here's that location on April 8, 1993:

You can see the strip mine pit just to the left of center. Details are hard to make out in the black-and-white photo, but it appears the surrounding area is still heavily forested.

Here's that scene twelve years and a week later, on April 15, 2005:

And again on September 21, 2005:

October 17, 2008:

And finally, on October 7, 2011:

Keep in mind that this is on the side of a mountain. The houses on the lower right are in Plymouth*, located about two hundred feet downhill from this denuded area. Notice also the erosion gashes that appear throughout the area that has been cleared by trees. Can anyone else see the potential for disaster here?

Many times people have wished they could view a landscape the way it used to be, years ago. Thanks to Google Earth, now you can. This is a potentially useful and important tool for a lot of people. Check it out for yourself!

*Or possibly West Nanticoke.

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