By Chris Adams

Where has the Earth and its citizens been, and where is it going?

Understanding that is a core function of journalism, and a new tool from Carnegie Mellon University allows journalists to do so.

EarthTime was developed by researchers at the university’s CREATE Lab and is, in the words of designer Randy Sargent, “a time-series map of the planet.” In a National Press Foundation video and a session with Paul Miller fellows, Sargent and colleague Ryan Hoffman described the development of EarthTime and how journalists can use it.

The amount of data is impressive – a total of 800 different data layers that journalists can select to document and illustrate their stories. Much of it is satellite image data from 1984 onward, allowing journalists to see how the word has physically changed as glaciers melted, cities developed, lakes retreated.

Economic data in the platform go back more than 100 years – to 1900. And then there are forward-looking, predictive data, which can go out 50 or 100 years.

With EarthTime, it’s possible to see how the environment has changed – and how it might continue to do so; how land uses have changed; how demographics and trade patterns have changed. After layering on country borders, for example, users can see the impact on ocean levels if the planet warms 1 degree Celsius, or 1.5 degrees, or 2 or 4.

In addition to analyzing the trends, users can download the data into visualizations. “You can tell a time story, and you can tell a geographic story,” Sargent said.

Users can see changes in birth rates, death rates and mortality rates; population density and growth; migration; and literacy rates.

Illah Nourbakhsh, a Carnegie Mellon professor who developed EarthTime, has said he sees it as “a means to tell stories.”