The biggest changes to Google Earth in 2016

The Google Earth client only saw bug fix updates this year. However, there were a number of significant changes to the imagery and layers.

Global Mosaics
In June, Google updated the global mosaic composed of Landsat imagery that is seen in Google Earth when you zoom out. In November, Google added global mosaics to historical imagery created with Landsat and Sentinel 2 imagery showing the earth from 1984 to date.

Lion, the Saroo Brierley story featured in a Voyager layer
In November, Google updated the Voyager layer to Edition 3 featuring the story of Saroo Brierley who found his way home with the aid of Google Earth. The story has been made into a move called ‘Lion’.

No ‘historical imagery’ updates
Google has been very active with imagery updates, adding new imagery on an almost weekly basis. For the first half of the year we were able to track these changes with the help of ‘historical imagery’ and the Google Earth API. But, from about July onwards, although Google has continued to add imagery to the default layer, no updates have been made to ‘historical imagery’ other than the addition of the global Landsat / Sentinel-2 mosaics mentioned above. This has made tracking the full extent of imagery updates impossible.

Weather layers dropped
The weather layers were broken then fixed in 2015 and then broken again in 2016. Rather than fix it, Google chose to remove the layers from Google Earth. The layers removed were “Conditions and Forecast” and “Ocean Observations”. The “Clouds” and “Radar” layers still work.

Google announced that it will be shutting down Panoramio. The Panoramio layer in Google Earth is very popular and has a lot of photos in areas where Street View does not have coverage. The shutdown date is set for November 2017. We had a brief scare when the images stopped showing in Google Earth and we thought the layer had been removed early, but it turned out to be a technical problem that was soon fixed.

Google Earth Plugin / API
Having been deprecated in December 2014, Google announced that the Google Earth Plugin / API will finally be shut down on January 11, 2017.

Old versions
In addition to shutting down the Google Earth plugin / API, Google is discontinuing support for Google Earth 4 on January 11, 2017.

About Timothy Whitehead

Timothy has been using Google Earth since 2004 when it was still called Keyhole before it was renamed Google Earth in 2005 and has been a huge fan ever since. He is a programmer working for Red Wing Aerobatx and lives in Cape Town, South Africa.


  1. Shutting down these services, or not keeping them operational is a sign. I think they want to “discontinue/depreciate” Google Earth in the long run, in favor of Google Maps. They do not seem to be interested in good products if they do not make enough money with them. Hope I am wrong, but ignoring customers whishes and their community input (Panoramio) shows the danger.

    • ben reuter says:

      Agree! Same happened when the big competitor Bing was sold by Microsoft. Since Mid 2015 no more updates of sat images. They focus just on maps and mobile stuff to find the next hotel or restaurant.
      Google will one day skip sat image updates too…

  2. ‘historical imagery’ is now updated.
    A map showing the latest updates and/or an update to the old “zoom level” map would be great.

  3. in google earth when you go to 10°24’21.85″S 15°44’02.89″E at an elevation of around 5124ft with the historical imagery tool switched on, it shows a greater area of cultivation. but when you zoom in it disappears. This can be seen elsewhere. is this new imagery that’s not yet available

  4. They shutting down the Map Maker

  5. For researchers like me who cover a specific territory, the updates this year have been a big problem. I used to be able to find new imagery in seconds, now I have to block off time each day to physically search for it. Also, the lack of updates to the historical imagery means that items I bookmarked have simply vanished (Like North Korea’s historic Party Congress in May of 2016). And maybe it is just me, but is there any demand at all for the Landsat data? Now it just clogs up the historical imagery mechanism. Hopefully some of this will be repaired in 2017, but I am not holding my breath.

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