NASA Satellites Watch Earth 'Breathe' in Awesome Time-Lapse Video

A cool new time-lapse video of Earth reveals how our planet has changed over the last two decades as NASA satellites continuously monitored the populations of plant life on land and in the oceans.  

The video shows Earth "breathing" repetitiously as the seasons change throughout each year, with snow coverage on the North and South Poles periodically growing and shrinking while green regions of vegetation do the same. 

A NASA visualization shows 20 years of continuous satellite observations of plant life on land and at the ocean's surface from 1997 to 2017. Vegetation on land is represented on a scale from brown (low vegetation) to dark green (lots of vegetation). In the ocean, populations of phytoplankton are indicated on a scale from purple (low) to yellow (high). (Image credit: NASA)

Meanwhile, clouds of microscopic phytoplankton, a type of algae, bloom on the ocean's surface, where the tiny organisms turn water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and sugar as they bask in sunlight. [Earth's Plant Life from Space in Photos: NASA Satellite Images]

"These are incredibly evocative visualizations of our living planet," Gene Carl Feldman, an oceanographer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement. "That's the Earth, that is it breathing every single day, changing with the seasons, responding to the sun, to the changing winds, ocean currents and temperatures." 

The SeaWiFS satellite, launched in 1997, measures the amount of phytoplankton that blooms on Earth's ocean surfaces. Here, SeaWiFS data show how phytoplankton in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean responded to the transition between El Niño and La Niña conditions in 1998. Higher concentrations of phytoplankton are represented in yellow and red, with lower concentrations pictured in purple. (Image credit: NASA)

The visualization was created using data from Earth-observing satellites like NASA's Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS) mission, which began collecting global ocean data in 1997, as well the space agency's Terra, Aqua and Suomi NPP weather satellites. 

Seeing how plant life all around the planet has changed over the last 20 years can help scientists and researchers investigate how ecosystems are responding to changing environmental conditions, NASA officials said in the statement.

For example, studies have shown that rising sea surface temperatures have impeded growth of phytoplankton, which means that there are fewer organisms in the ocean to remove carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is the main driver of climate change. 

Vegetation in North America wakes up in the spring, captured here as a change from pale green to dark green as photosynthesis ramps up with the season. White areas are covered in snow. (Image credit: NASA)

"The space-based view of life allows scientists to monitor crop, forest and fisheries health around the globe. But the space agency's scientists have also discovered long-term changes across continents and ocean basins," NASA officials said. "As NASA begins its third decade of global ocean and land measurements, these discoveries point to important questions about how ecosystems will respond to a changing climate and broad-scale changes in human interaction with the land."

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Hanneke Weitering
Contributing expert

Hanneke Weitering is a multimedia journalist in the Pacific Northwest reporting on the future of aviation at and Aviation International News and was previously the Editor for Spaceflight and Astronomy news here at As an editor with over 10 years of experience in science journalism she has previously written for Scholastic Classroom Magazines, MedPage Today and The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her hometown of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. Hanneke joined the team in 2016 as a staff writer and producer, covering topics including spaceflight and astronomy. She currently lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, with her cat and two snakes. In her spare time, Hanneke enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains, basking in nature and looking for dark skies to gaze at the cosmos.