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Screenshot from EarthTime (earthtime.org) developed by the World Economic Forum and CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University

Screenshot from EarthTime (earthtime.org) developed by the World Economic Forum and CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University

Animated data visualisations on new website show human impact on the planet

A new website which shows humanity’s impact on the planet using animated data visualisations , was launched on World Earth Day on 22 April. The website, EarthTime, was developed by the CREATE Lab (the Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment Lab) at Carnegie Mellon University and the World Economic Forum.

It combines satellite imagery from NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) captured since 1984, with over 300 free, open-source geospatial datasets. In addition to NASA, current datasets come from the World Bank, the UNHCR, Berkeley Earth, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Climate Central, S&P Global, Kudelski, the International Renewable Energy Agency and WWF, and others. New data providers are being added constantly.

Massive data sets are pre-processed using big-data techniques to create animated visualisations of high-resolution information at different time scales. Like with video games, EarthTime uses GPU's in the computer to create a new capability for interactively exploring extreme-sized data.

The World Economic Forum’s network of experts track and connect patterns, between a range of topics from deforestation to city growth, coral bleaching and rise in sea level. These experts on nutrition, pandemics, climate change, deforestation, refugees help make sense of the data and allow a layering of narratives, answering questions such as how did rise in the global demand for meat trigger deforestation, a major contributor to climate change.

Nine expert analyses on global challenges were launched on World Earth Day (22 April): deforestationcity growthcoral bleachingfires at nightglaciersrefugeesrenewablessea-level risesurface-water gain and loss and urban fragility. Other layers will be added in the months and years ahead. Users will soon be able to create their own stories.

‍Screenshot from EarthTime (earthtime.org) developed by the World Economic Forum and CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University

The platform has already been used in public outreach in schools and museums, and to inform world leaders at World Economic Forum events of major environmental and geoeconomic shifts, from air pollution to inequality. It uses images captured by NASA satellites since 1984.

The press release explains that the vision, and long-term goal of the platform is to better inform individuals, business heads and policy-makers about the lives we lead, the decisions we make and the impact we have on the planet.

Illah Nourbakhsh, Professor of Robotics, Carnegie Mellon University, and Director, CREATE Lab, said, “EarthTime tries to build the common ground that we believe is essential to the discourse that we all must have as stewards of our planet and our joint future. The Earth is changing dramatically. No single discipline can make sense of all that is now happening and no citizen is free from the consequences of what we all do next. We all must be involved in understanding Earth's changes and how we can work together to bring about our desired sustainable future into reality.”

Lee Howell, Managing Director, Head of Global Programming, World Economic Forum, said, “For most leaders, it is difficult to comprehend fully the scale and scope of the planetary and socioeconomic challenges we face. This pioneering digital platform allows the business, policy and scientific communities to make better decisions for our planet through visualization and Big Data.”

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