In celebration of Earth Day, Google’s April 22 doodle uses timelapse satellite imagery to show the real-life effects of a hot planet. From melting glaciers in Greenland and Mount Kilimanjaro to Australia’s dwindling Great Barrier Reef, to Germany’s drought-stricken forests, the doodle is designed to remind viewers that climate change is a global threat.
Using photos taken from space over the course of years or decades, three Google Doodle GIFs make the effects of climate change on land more visible. The fourth shows underwater photographs taken over a three-month period of coral dying from climate change-induced bleaching.
Recently, Google has taken its search impact seriously when it comes to educating people about climate change. Each GIF will play on Google’s homepage for several hours, and clicking on the doodle brings a look at all four GIFs. From there, a universe of information on climate change expands with each click.
With imagery, informative text, and links to external websites, this year’s Earth Day Google Doodle serves as a virtual classroom for the study of climate change. After clicking on the doodle, clicking “See more on Google Earth” displays a series of slides and videos for each GIF. An entire Earth Day could be spent exploring this most important topic.
One of the GIFs shows what a melting mountain glacier looks like. Formerly part of the summit ice cap of Mount Kilimanjaro, the Furtwngler Glacier now ceases to exist as local temperatures rise even at 19,000 feet (5,895 m). In the last 100 years, about 85% of glaciers have disappeared.
Another GIF documents declining glaciers in northern Greenland. Beyond the loss of beauty, such land-borne ice melts directly into the ocean where it contributes to rising sea levels. While Greenland has seen some recent glacial growth, scientists attribute this to cold water that is actually received in a feedback loop from melting glaciers. According to NASA, more melt keeps happening than evolution.
In another set of images, an entire forest, the Harz Forest in Germany, desolate and gray. Satellite images taken each December from 1995 to 2020 show the effects of rising temperatures and drought-stricken bark beetle infestations. The Google Earth page that accompanies this GIF provides examples of deforestation around the world.
The final GIF uses photos from The Ocean Agency, taken between March and May 2016, to show what dying coral looks like. Scientists have calculated that the oceans absorb 93% of the heat caused by climate change. This is bad news for coral, which tends to bleach in water and stay very hot. Clicking on the GIF introduces the Chasing Coral Project designed to raise awareness of this critical condition for corals.
Today’s Google Doodle makes a solid case for how photography can serve science and help educate the public about the climate crisis.