5 Free Historical Imagery Viewers to Leap Back in the Past

historical imagery google earth

Last Updated: Jan 13, 2019

Aerial Imagery and Satellite Orthos Webmap Platforms

When you want to leap backwards in time and see how your backyard changed…

Where can you view historical imagery in an intuitive, user-friendly map viewer?

Look no further because here are 5 online platforms to journey into the past…

And explore historical imagery for nearly anywhere on Earth.

1 Google Earth Pro

Not only is Google a world leader in geocoded addressing, but you can leap to the past with its historical time slider.

From satellite to aerial photography, Google Earth Pro puts the whole world in your hands.

First, zoom to your area of interest. Click the time slider icon. Now, visit your neighborhood in the past. You’ll know which years are available based on the thumbnails.

historical imagery google earth

2 Esri’s Wayback Living Atlas

Recently, Esri has released their newest addition to the Living Atlas of the World. Basically, this collection of Earth curates essential geographic information that impacts people’s daily lives.

For example, this includes items such as weather, traffic, elevation, demographics, oceans and urban systems.

As part of their enormous collection of maps, Esri’s Wayback Living Atlas lets users browse historical imagery back in time.

Still in the introductory phase, their collection of imagery is growing and evolving into a must-have platform for map historians.

historical imagery esri wayback

3 USGS LandLook

If you want to dig into USGS’s giant collection of about 7 million scanned historical image, take a trip to the USGS Earth Explorer. We have a step-by-step tutorial how to download imagery from the USGS Earth Explorer. Instead of satellite imagery, your search criteria would be “Aerial Imagery”. Some of my favorites being NAIP, DOQ and the mosaics.

For rapid viewing of Sentinel-2 and Landsat imagery, the USGS Land Look spans back to 1999.

  • First, load your images by filtering the days, years, cloud cover and sensors.
  • Next, you can play a video displaying each scene in your time span.
  • Finally, if you want to export your scenes as PNG, GeoTIFF or JPG, you can select the “export” tool.

Overall, USGS Land Look is ideal for searching historical imagery which are part of the Sentinel-2 and Landsat archive.

historical imagery usgs landlook

4 NASA Worldview

NASA’s Worldview has 600 global, full-resolution satellite imagery layers.

Albeit, they’re coarser than the others in this list. But essentially, they show the entire Earth as it looks “right now”. Actually, it’s updated within three hours of observation.

So you’re probably asking: this isn’t historical imagery, is it?

Instead of using the current date (which is the default), you can step back in time by adjusting the time slider. Unlike the cloudless imagery were accustomed to, this is the true view of our planet.

historical imagery worldview

5 Planet Labs

Here’s a couple cool facts about Planet:

  • They are a team of ex-NASA scientists who built their business embracing low cost, lightweight, micro satellites in space.
  • They are the largest collector of Earth imagery with a constellation of 175+ satellites in orbit at this time.
  • Planet has a “freemium” service which dates back to 2009 giving you historical context on your areas of interest.

Planet’s fleet of satellites is ideal for monitoring anything on Earth. For example, Planet Stories allows users to use space imagery and tell their own story anywhere.

historical imagery planet labs

Aerial Orthoimagery for Historical Context

When you want historical context for an area of interest, there are several options to help you get started.

Google Earth is a mobile and desktop application with an enormous collection of historical imagery for free.

Esri’s Wayback Living Atlas provides an online platform. It’s free and it’s growing for historical images. Lastly, it’s becoming more ubiquitous to the average user.

Finally, USGS, NASA and Planet’s constellation of satellites provide an alternative means to view the history of Earth.

READ MORE: 15 Free Satellite Imagery Data Sources

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