Beyond the Bend: A Google Earth Experiment

By Staff • April 12th, 2017

Our reporting team researched data on stories of growth and change in communities outside of South Bend, Indiana, and visualized that data using Google Earth Pro and Earth Engine Timelapse. The videos and graphics show radical change to some of the world’s rapidly changing areas.


Butte and the Berkeley Pit

The state of Montana has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1992, when Bill Clinton won 37.63 percent of the popular vote to beat George H.W. Bush. Bush received 35.12 percent of the popular vote that year.

In the 2016 election, when Donald Trump won 55.6 percent of the popular vote in Montana, six counties voted for Hillary Clinton: Missoula, Glacier, Big Horn, Gallatin, Deer Lodge and Silver Bow.

Deer Lodge and Silver Bow counties have voted for the Democratic candidate in every presidential election since 1956,* even in 1972 when every other Montana county went for Nixon.

The story of Silver Bow county is a unique one in the history of Montana and the United States. Up until the 1930s, it was the fastest growing county in Montana, with a booming copper industry. Now, it has a population of 34,523 (2013 numbers) and the entire area is on the EPA’s National Priorities list. The EPA gave the “Silver Bow Creek/Butte Area” a site score** of 63.76, the highest in Montana.

A Google Timelapse showing an aerial view of the area since 1984 and the growth of the Berkeley Pit can be found here.

The growing pit or lake in the top part of the frame was once home to neighborhoods that lived on top of the mines that made Butte a destination for European immigrants. Open pit mining in Butte began in 1955, when copper prices were the highest they had been since World War I. The accessible parts of the Butte mines had already been mined, but the Anaconda Company sought to continue to profit from its mines there.

Butte was originally founded as a gold and silver mining camp, but it became prosperous in early 20th century during the copper boom.

By 1900, historian David Emmons estimates 12,000 people of Irish descent lived in Butte. Below is a Google Earth Pro-generated movie mapping out the route Emmons describes in his book, “The Butte Irish”: “Skibereen to Queenstown; Queenstown to Boston; Boston to Butte and the Mountain Con Mine.”

The tour begins on the Beara Peninsula, near Skibereen. What Emmons calls Queenstown is today known as Cobh, a port town in County Cork, Ireland.

*In 1956, Silver Bow county voted for Dwight Eisenhower, while Deer Lodge still voted for the Democrat Adlai Stevenson. In 1924, Silver Bow voted for the progressive candidate, Robert Follette. In 1904, Deer Lodge voted for Theodore Roosevelt. In every other presidential election, both counties have voted for the Democratic candidate.

**The site score is calculated by the EPA using their Hazard Ranking System. A full definition can be found here. It examines a site’s ability to release hazardous substances, the characteristics of the waste created and the people and sensitive environments affected by the release. — Caelin Miltko


Touring the Premier League’s Stadiums

The English Premier League’s stadiums encompass a wide range of size and prestige. From AFC Bournemouth’s tiny 12,000-seat Vitality Stadium to iconic stadiums of the sport — Liverpool’s Anfield, Manchester United’s Old Trafford and more — here is a tour of all 20 Premier League Stadiums. — Lucas Masin-Moyer


Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest

This timelapse shows satellite imagery of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest from 1984 to 2016. This section of the Amazon rainforest is located in the Codajás municipality of the Amazonas state. Zoom in to see the individual settlements that have cut deeper and deeper into the rainforest over time. Roads into the rainforest widen as deforestation increases.

Deforestation is used by the logging industry, as well as for farm, industrial and settlement use. The Amazon rainforest has lost 294,366 square miles in total since 1970. “Save the Rainforest” protests prompted significant decreases to illegal logging, but deforestation has been back on the rise since 2015.

These increases threaten Brazil’s ability to successfully complete the Paris Agreement commitments it made in 2016.

Deforestation has a serious impact on the environment and endangered species. If the current rate of deforestation continues, every rainforest in the world will disappear within 100 years. — Grace Watkins


Hong Kong International Airport Emerges from the Sea

Hong Kong International Airport opened in July 1998 and was built largely on land reclaimed from the sea.

The airport is currently 4.8 square miles with two runways, though it’s expanding to three runways and is rapidly forming more land to accommodate the growth.

Hong Kong International Airport is the world’s most profitable, and Skytrax rankings recently named the airport the fifth best in the world, as voted by air travelers.

Watch the island emerge from the sea in this Google Earth Engine timelapse from 1984 to 2016. — Cassidy McDonald


Timelapse: Lake Mead is Drying Up

Along with the rest of the Western United States, Lake Mead in Nevada is suffering from the ongoing drought. The water levels have shrunk substantially from 1984 to 2016.

In the past, the reservoir has provided 90 percent of Las Vegas’ drinking water, yet federal water managers are now predicting that the lake will not have enough water to fulfill deliveries to Arizona and Nevada in 2018.

Las Vegas, Nevada, is one of the fastest growing cities in America, and the shrinking of its main fresh water supply is not something that will help the rising population levels. According to CBS News, the water levels of the Lake Mead reservoir were down more than 60 percent from their capacity in May of 2015. In September of 2015, the reservoir was down 147 feet from full capacity, and only 38 percent full. In 2016, the reservoir was just 36 percent full, and only keeps shrinking.

What exactly is causing this shrinking? Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States, and is fed by the Colorado River and its tributaries, which are fed by snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains. Since the Southwestern United States and the Colorado River Basin have been experiencing a drought for the past fourteen years, there just isn’t as much water flowing in the system.

Although the snow should still be melting, the winters have been uneven and the precipitation has been below average, due to warmer temperatures and global warming. All of these factors in combination have contributed to the drying up of Lake Mead.

The drought is not going away anytime soon. The chances of a 35-year or longer “megadrought” striking the Southwest and central Great Plains by 2100 are above 80 percent if the world stays on its current trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions, according to scientists from NASA, Columbia University and Cornell University.

Although the region is already historically dry, rising temperatures spurred by the greenhouse effect result in more evaporation and less precipitation for the region as a whole. — Claire Radler


Dubai’s Radical Transformation

Dubai has experienced quite the transformation over the past few decades. It used to be known mainly as a small trading post and oil producer, but has become a a growing target of investment and an emerging tourist destination.

Dubai wants to become “the smartest and most sustainable city,” according to the Wall Street Journal. The impetus of Dubai’s transformation was when it became a member of the United Arab Emirates in 1971. Dubai, which is now home to approximately 2.5 million inhabitants, now boasts the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper.

Dubai is in preparation to host the World Expo in 2020. — Jacob Zinkula


Myrtle Beach’s Rapid Growth

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is one of the most popular vacation cities in the United States.

It’s also one of the nation’s fastest growing cities. According to Steve Jones of The Sun News, Myrtle Beach was the nation’s second-fastest growing metropolitan area from 2014 to 2015.

Though people of all ages have been moving to Myrtle Beach, a lot of the city’s recent growth can be attributed to retirees. Myrtle Beach is famous for beautiful beaches, and rapid economic development has accounted for the construction of a bevy of other attractions, such as golf courses.

The Google Earth Engine Timelapse tool below shows how dramatic the area’s growth has been. — Kevin Culligan