Earth's Life Reacts to 20 Years of Environmental Change in NASA Animation

A stunning animation uses 20 years of results from environmental satellites to show seasonal and environmental changes to the surface of planet Earth. 

The work comes from a team of scientists and data visualizers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland."What we're looking at is the abundance of plants on land and in the ocean. And in the ocean, we're looking at microscopic plants called phytoplankton," Gene Feldman, an oceanographer at NASA Goddard, said in a new video (which you can see above) about the visualization. "On the land, it's sort of an aggregate of all vegetation. But they breathe, they respire, and they follow the sun in terms of their seasons."

The holistic look at Earth is crucial in understanding the changes the planet has experienced since the late 1990's, he said.What's so critical about this is that it's "the only data set that we have that really shows the biological response to environmental change," Feldman added. We have other instruments that measure changes in temperature, winds, currents and rainfall, he said. "But this data set shows, 'What does the Earth's biology do in response to that environmental change?'"

Alex Kekesi, the researcher at NASA's Science Visualization Studio who created the new animation, said in the video that there was an enormous amount of data to integrate and visualize. "On my part ... the challenge here was kind of wrangling all this 20 years' worth of data," he said. "You guys [Tucker and Feldman] did an amazing job at collecting it all and creating data sets that can be easily used together."

Compton Tucker, a senior Goddard scientist who analyzed the land data, added that the visualization gave scientists a way of looking at Earth through time."We're looking at the consequence of instruments on satellites not looking away from Earth but looking at Earth through time, [watching] how thing change, how things vary or don't," he said in the video. "It's just fascinating to look at, and it's so dynamic.""This is our living planet. ... One planet, one climate, one people — we're all in this together," Tucker added.

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Douglas Messier is the managing editor of, a daily online blog founded in 2007 that covers space tourism, space commercialization, human spaceflight and planetary exploration. Douglas earned a journalism degree from Rider University in New Jersey as well as a certificate in interdisciplinary space studies from the International Space University. He also earned a master's degree in science, technology and public policy from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.  You can follow Douglas's latest project on Twitter and