Time Warp: 32 Years of Environmental Change in Victoria

Victoria has changed substantially over the last few decades. We've had enormous environmental perturbations, such as the 2003 Alpine fires that burnt 1.3 million hectares of land and the rolling booms and busts of rainfall associated with the El Nino cycle. We've also seen Melbourne's continued expansion as our population grows. But rarely are we able to visualise some of these changes easily, and at a scale that allows us to conceptualise just how much change has occurred.

Luckily, the release of Google's satellite photography time lapse project allows just that - we can now see how the world has changed over the past 32 years, from the perspective of space. We've picked through much of Victoria, known for its variable climate and environmental disturbances, in search of some of the most striking and eye-opening changes and environmental variations.

What we've found is pretty incredible. 

A State-wide View

Take a look at Victoria as a whole. From tall forests to farmland, and mallee to Melbourne, this time-lapse is striking in that it shows just how much Victoria has changed in the past thirty years - even in the most remote parts of the state, such as Wyperfeld and Croajingalong National Parks.  

The Growth of Melbourne

In our capital, you can see suburbs sprawling around Port Phillip Bay to the east and west, the pace quickening in more recent years as the city's population raced past four million. It's likely that these rates of growth will continue into the future as well, signalling further environmental change. 


Fire in the Central Highlands

On Melbourne's doorstep, we have the Central Highlands. Here, it's the striking impact of the Black Saturday fires that is most apparent. As the timeline flicks over from 2008 to 2009, the dark green of the mountain ash turns to grey, highlighting the enormous scale of these devastating fires.  

East Gippsland

In Victoria's far-east, the thirty years of environmental change in eucalypt forest is substantial. Fire and a dynamic climate are apparent here as the forest changes over the years. This particular view emphasises the kinds of scales that processes like fire operate on, and that very little of Victoria remains untouched by humans. 

Where The Snowy Meets The Sea

Google's time-lapse technology also offers a look at how some of our river systems have changed over time. Where Victoria's iconic Snowy River meets Bass Strait, the river mouth snakes up and down the coast every year with the tides, shifting enormous amounts of sand in the process. 

Lake Eildon

We can also gain new perspectives of Victoria's dynamic climate over the years by looking at how some of our lakes have changed. Here, Lake Eildon dries and fills every few years in line with rainfall. Over the course of the Big Dry (1997-2009), Eildon progressively becomes drier and drier, only to fill up again in the 2010-11 Big Wet. This particular time lapse really hits home with how much drought can affect Victoria's systems. 

Fire in the Mallee

In Victoria's mallee ecosystems, the effects of individual fires scar the landscape for over 100 years. As each year rolls through in the time lapse, new scars appear as fire incinerates the vegetation, leaving only dirt and ash. Of particular note is the enormous Big Desert fire in 2003 that covered over 180,000 Ha of land. The contrast of these with the fires in East Gippsland is dramatic - from space, the temperate forests of the east appear to regenerate within a few years, whereas in the mallee, the changes brought on by fire last for much longer

Booms and Busts of the Grampians

To the south-east, we can see how Victoria's increasingly dynamic climate is affecting the beautiful Grampians. We know how much the Grampians' small mammal populations vary with fire and climate from year to year, and by studying this series of images it's easy to understand why. The filling and drying lakes tell a story of unreliable rainfall (see Wartook Reservoir in the north and Rocklands Reservoir to the west). At the same time, fires create a complex patchwork of vegetation across the landscape. 

These time lapse videos provide a whole new way to conceptualise environmental change in Victoria, and indeed the world. The impacts of fire, climate, and human society are apparent all across the state, the scale of which, at times, is incredible. Hopefully, these will videos go some way to contextualising that change, and put into perspective just how much our world varies from year to year. Often as a result of us, too.  

To explore Google Timelapse, head to this link.