The Temporal Earth Vision

The Temporal Earth project was launched in 2012, building on Al Gore’s 1998 “Digital Earth” vision to “put the full range of data about our planet and our history at our fingertips”. Gore’s idea inspired the development of Google Earth, but there has been little effort toward a key suggestion in his speech: an ability to travel back through time through “days, years, centuries, or even geological epochs … to learn more about dinosaurs”.

Building on the success of the Sahul Time prototype, the Temporal Earth project asks how a universal interface to history would look and feel, and what data it might contain. In order to collate comprehensive datasets across multiple timescales, content for Temporal Earth has focused on on Australian history, archaeology and geology.

The following video was created for the 2012 International Symposium on Digital Earth, explaining the project’s philosophy, and demonstrating early versions of the historical-scale data-layers via Google Earth. The capabilities of the Sahul Time prototype show how archaeology, ancient geography, and dinosaurs could potentially be represented:

The desktop version of Google Earth offers a rather clunky timeline, and development initially focused on combining the Google Earth plug-in with a custom JavaScript timeline coded by Matthew Coller. Some of the demonstrations in this website are captured from this interim prototype. After Google deprecated the plug-in during 2015 and finally turned it off in January 2017, a new solution was sought that would allow Temporal Earth to work natively in a web-browser.

The open-source virtual globe Cesium has now been integrated with the Temporal Earth timeline, and the Temporal Earth Collection arranged into thematic layers. The more self-explanatory domain name Time-machine.Earth was chosen for a public-facing portal, which was quietly launched in 2017. Some further development and testing is required before it will be more widely publicised. Read more about plans for Time-machine.Earth here.



Karl Grossner’s paper Defining A Digital Earth System suggested a three-tiered structure: comprehensive foundational layers;

  • Level I: comprehensive ‘core’ layers (eg. satellite-style geography, settlement patterns, communication and transport networks)
  • Level II: ‘certified’ datasets at various scales and coverage extents (eg. historical photo collections, nuclear tests, notable people, archaeological site-dates)
  • Level III: registered but unreviewed (eg. preliminary research datasets, hypotheses, educational tours)