If you could speed up time and watch a fast-growing city like Las Vegas change, what would it look like? From the perspective of the Landsat satellites, it’s a stunning lesson in urban growth. Watch Las Vegas’ rapid expansion in this animation created from Landsat images dating back to 1972.
In each image, bright red indicates actively growing vegetation. This makes golf courses easy to spot, and their development can be tracked along with the residential areas that surround them.
The desert landscape gradually becomes covered with streets, highways, and development as time goes on. A plot of very light tan can sometimes be seen right before a new residential area is built. This indicates a clearing of the land.
Other natural bright areas also appear around the urban development. The bright reflection indicates the presence of salts, minerals, and clays in the sediment. Water once settled in these flat, lower elevation areas and these minerals remained. The brown-tan regions surrounding the city are likely steeper slopes where flowing water rinsed out those minerals. Darker tones indicate coarser material, and lighter tones are fine material such as clays that have a higher reflectance.
Each image represents about one year from 1972 to 2018. Landsats 1–5 and Landsat 7–8 are represented in this movie, which demonstrates the value of the past Landsat data along with new data for monitoring change over time. Landsat images are available to the public at no cost at the USGS Global Visualization Viewer (http://glovis.usgs.gov) or EarthExplorer (http://earthexplorer.usgs.gov).