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Phoenix, Arizona, and its suburbs are growing rapidly, both in population and area. Landsat images show striking changes in the Phoenix metropolitan area in only a few decades. The most noticeable change is residential areas spreading over agricultural fields, which are shown in the images as bright red squares and rectangles. But in other areas, the urban growth expands over what was once bare desert.

New residents and tourists are attracted to Phoenix by the warm weather and abundant sunshine. Phoenix has maintained rapid and sustained growth, and its location in a wide valley allows neighborhoods to be built with houses that can have a lot of space around them. From 1970 to 2021, the population of the Phoenix metropolitan area grew by 409 percent.

Phoenix doesn’t have many cloudy days, so it’s perfect for studying urban growth with satellite images. Scientists and city planners study population growth and urban expansion in fast-growing cities like Phoenix to determine the changes that have occurred over time and to see how those changes impact the surrounding environment, affect the availability of natural resources such as water, and alter the landscape and how it’s used. That information can help people plan for future changes as cities continue to grow.

Population of Greater Phoenix
Year Population
2021 4,946,145
2010 4,192,887
2000 3,251,876
1990 2,122,887
1980 1,509,052
1970 971,228
1960 663,510
1950 331,770
1940 186,193


Every picture has a story to tell
Sept. 22, 1984, Landsat 5 (path/row 37/37) — Phoenix, Arizona, USA
July 8, 1991, Landsat 5 (path/row 37/37) — Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Oct. 15, 2001, Landsat 7 (path/row 37/37) — Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Oct. 19, 2011, Landsat 5 (path/row 37/37) — Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Aug. 30, 2022, Landsat 8 (path/row 37/37) — Phoenix, Arizona, USA


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References (Earthshot Overview/Parent Only)

Acevedo, William, Taylor, Janis L., Hester, Dave J., Mladinich, Carol S., and Glavac, Sonya, Eds., 2006, Rates, trends, causes, and consequences of urban land-use change in the United States: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1726, 200 p. Available online at

The Arizona Experience, [n.d.], Central Arizona Project: The Arizona Experience, available at (Accessed July 1, 2013.)

Auch, Roger, Taylor, Janis, and Acevedo, William, 2004, Urban growth in American cities—Glimpses of U.S. Urbanization: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1252, 52 p. Available online at

Central Arizona Project, [n.d.], Central Arizona Project Web site at (Accessed July 1, 2013.)

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deBuys, W., 2013, Could Phoenix soon become uninhabitable? The Nation, available at (Accessed July 1, 2013.)

Scott, M., 2010, Booming growth in Phoenix suburbs: NASA Earth Observatory, available at (Accessed December 20, 2012.)

University of Phoenix Stadium, [n.d.], University of Phoenix Stadium Web site at (Accessed December 20, 2012.)

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, 2009, New Waddell Dam: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, available at (Accessed July 1, 2013.)

U.S. Census Bureau, 2022, Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas Population Totals and Components of Change--2020-2021: accessed August 25, 2022, at

U.S. Census Bureau, 2019, Census of Population and Housing: accessed September 15, 2020, at

U.S. Census Bureau, [n.d.], QuickFacts--Chandler city, Arizona: accessed September 15, 2020, at

Zuniga, J.E., 2000, The Central Arizona Project: Bureau of Reclamation, available at (Accessed July 1, 2013.)

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