How Green Is My Valley? New Satellite Imagery Shows Changes in Earth’s Vegetation

Satellite imagery reveals a green, breathing planet — but one under threat from human activity

  • Share
  • Read Later

We call earth the blue planet with reason — water covers 71% of our world’s surface, a fact that sets the third rock from the sun apart. But humans are land creatures, and we have lived and thrived on earth because of the vegetation our planet supports. We depend on the green.

Now recent footage gathered by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite shows in detail just how that green changes over the course of the seasons — and how we’re altering it with man-made activity. The video above is distilled from footage collected from April 2012 to April 2013 by the NASA/NOAA Suomi NPP satellite. The satellite can detect pixel-by-pixel changes in the earth’s vegetation over the course of a week or several decades. The areas of darkest green show dense vegetative growth — think rain forests — while lighter areas represent land with less plant cover, like deserts and mountains. Oceans and fresh water in the video are left white.

In North America, the video shows how greenery changes over the course of the year, as fall turns to winter and vegetation shrinks thanks to snowfall and dropping temperatures. Wildfires — like the deadly fires blasting through Arizona now — torch forests but over the long term can help promote revitalized plant growth. In South America, the video shows how deep green land surrounding the wide Amazon River has changed thanks to deforestation. The land has been scarred as forests have been cut down or burned to make room for agriculture and settlements. In China, the most populous country on the planet, unprecedented urban sprawl has left pockets of white amid the dense green along the coasts. Shanghai — a city with a metro population of over 23 million people — is seen as a blank white spot.

The detail NOAA’s satellite imagery can offer is especially valuable in the Horn of Africa, where minute changes of vegetative growth can offer advance warning for oncoming droughts. At the same time, a sudden flourishing of green could signal an uptick in malaria — a disease that kills more than 3,000 African children a day — as the Anopheles mosquito that hosts the malaria parasite thrives on dense, wet vegetation.

The Suomi NPP satellite allows us to see how our planet is changing in near real time. And given how fast we’re changing it — thanks to man-made greenhouse gases and sprawling development — it’s an eye in the sky we need more than ever.

MORE: Timelapse: Satellite Videos Show How the Earth Has Changed


We badly need the kind of information these satellite studies can offer. But I'm disappointed in the tone of the video, which was soothing, calm. 

Given what what's happening to forest, watershed, wildlife, and even local First Nations wellness in northern Alberta with open pit tar mining (re XL and if industry gets favorable sign will be toxification and denuding of region approx size of Florida. Migrating birds, as well as indigenous wildlife can't 'hang about waiting for these habitats to return to normal; they will starve. These forests also 'purify' and manage water, snowmelt, and runoff - allowing water to seep deeper into the earth.)

We've also got mountain top blasting in forested US coal country. Global fracking toxins are treated as if they are localized issues rather than of consequence to the whole of earth's dynamic life system.

*All* human earth destructiveness, externalized costs for sake of corporate bottom line, and even herbicides for dandelions - dandelions! - are creating risks to *all* life as we think we know it. This is one earth - just the one - and its waters and air in constant interactive movement around the globe. 

These natural systems are not 'available for our convenience'. Our job is stewardship - always has been. It is up to us to make changes in how we approach resource exploitation - should have started way back when. All resources now have a certain 'precious' quality that, before high-consumption lifestyles, was perhaps not quite so critical.

We need a much more vigorous response and 'disciplined resource use' - on all inhabited continents - than the vid or article seem to suggest.  "Expand and exploit" national and global economics can no longer serve. Soothing advertisements from profit-seeking mega-energy corps when associated with 'green enthusiasm' vids have a pat on the head quality, "there, there, my dear, don't worry your pretty little head.  The ads are not particularly reassuring, (except perhaps to corporate PR departments, who assume they will work to prevent closer investigation of harm done.)

(My system only gave me about 2min following the commercial and attempt at replay says 'try later' so maybe the vid 'got serious' farther on; but as my long rant may suggest; I have a certain passion on this topic. ... I think we're headed for pretty serious trouble - us and the other species we may take down with us.)


These liberal freaks are turning my beautiful MURICA into sh*t!!!! We need bush back! If only these liberal fktards and illegals would gtfo we would be perfect and MURICA would be pure green within 6 months! MURICA!!!!!!


It does appear that the greenest California regions are the Sierra mountains, and somewhat lighter parts are the Central Valley.  There is even a streak of lesser vegetation, which might suggest that some of the water restrictions now in place are capable of also doing serious damage.

This is a problem needing more intelligent resolution also. 


This is a fantastic proof of what can be done with intelligent human action, more than it shows dangers of such.

The intensely green California Central Valley proves what can be done with intelligent use of water.  That living and breathing vegetative mass is powerfully effective in capturing CO2 and holding carbon.  This could be made to happen in the vast under-used areas of Western America that now show as nearly barren regions in the satellite imagery.  Positive action for everyone's benefit could be taken by action to build infrastructure for enabling universal irrigation.  This could minimize effects of both drought and flood as well as provide a reversal of climate change processes.  Not only that, it could re-invigorate our economy with agricultural jobs and exports.

While we wait for sensible action, we are attempting to solve the problem of hand farm labor which limits agriculture even today.  Check for video links that show this work.