Seeing the rapid pace of change in India’s cities and environment through Timelapse
Editor’s note: Today’s post is by Raj Bhagat, GIS and Remote Sensing Analyst for World Resources Institute India, where he supports projects on water, energy, and sustainable cities. Bhagat uses Google Earth Timelapse to illustrate India’s changing landscape and urbanization.
India is changing quickly, and WRI India is working to tell accurate and informative stories about sustainable development solutions. For both WRI India and my own social media followers, Google Earth Timelapse is a compelling tool for explaining how India’s environment is changing, year by year.
WRI India’s goal is to bring about positive change in India through our objective policy research and practical ideas for sustainability. We use Timelapse visuals — like the one below of deforestation in the Sonitpur district of Assam — to help citizens and government officials grasp the magnitude of these changes.
I’ll share a few other examples of change around India.
Forests and agriculture in Rajasthan
Timelapse helps us fill in historical gaps in data that leave us with incomplete pictures of how trends like urbanization and growth change the environment. In Rajasthan, government officials have promoted growth by building a system of irrigation canals intended to prevent new desertification near Thar, and protect forested lands.
In this Timelapse animation, it’s easy to see the “greening” landscape is due to agriculture. The public tends to believe the green comes from forest growth; in fact, it’s agriculture that has taken over the barren land areas.
Urbanization is another trend that is better understood with images that show change over time. Some of India’s cities are doubling in size every 20 years; Bangalore, whose population was about 100,000 people a century ago, is now home to 10 million people. As population grows, essential services like water and sewage need to keep up. Timelapse helps officials understand how and where their cities are changing, so they can respond with sustainable plans to meet citizen’s needs.
In a recent meeting with city officials, we used a Timelapse video to show how the city has grown over the past 20 years. We are able to give context to discussions about the extent of urbanization, its direction, and its impacts. It’s not easy to predict how cities will scale and change, but Timelapse is useful in providing a visual look into the future.
Monitoring the coastline for mangrove regrowth
At WRI India, we also use Timelapse videos for our own research. Recently we were curious about the regrowth of mangrove forests on India’s eastern coastline. Mangroves play an important role in flood control, support marine life, and contribute to carbon storage — all good reasons for studying their coastal growth.
I’ve been exploring some mangrove forest areas where government interventions are having a positive impact on growth, or where increased sedimentation has allowed mangroves to thrive. Following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, many people became more aware of the value of mangroves, since they shielded some coastal areas from destruction. I’m studying the mangrove growth trends myself with Timelapse to identify how the forests changed between 1989 and 2018.
I frequently post Timelapse videos on my Twitter feed when I’m trying to illustrate issues like Chennai’s water crisis or Rajasthan’s disappearing hills. If we want people to take action on an environmental issue or comprehend its seriousness, a strong visual is necessary.
Timelapse isn’t the only tool we use, but it is certainly one that helps us make our case for change in a high-impact manner. With just one animated image, we can dispel myths and misconceptions about what’s really happening on the ground in India, and bring reality to complex conversations.