Earthshots: Satellite Images of Environmental Change

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A megacity is a region that has a population greater than 10 million. It seems the term was created for cities like Shanghai, China. In 2000, the fast-growing city was home to 16.4 million people. Shanghai’s population exceeded 22 million in 2019. It’s the largest city in China and 7th largest in the world.

Shanghai sits on the Yangtze River delta along China’s eastern coast. The city covers about 6,333 square kilometers, an area slightly more than that covered by Toronto, Canada (5,901 square kilometers). But Shanghai has a population nearly 3.5 times higher than Toronto.

Much of Shanghai’s growth has been in suburban and outlying districts. The Landsat imagery makes this clear as the smaller populated areas outside of Shanghai expand and then are absorbed by the urban expansion. Growth is also notable along transportation systems. Landsat data provides insight into urban planning and sustainable development.

Map of the featured area.

Shanghai is expanding in every direction. The city is growing in a similar pattern to other cities around the world. Its population gain is mostly in suburban and exurban areas.

Between 1997 and 2008, developed land increased by 219.5%, most of it converted from former cropland. That developed land includes more than just housing. Industry and colleges have also moved to the urban fringe because of more space and lower land prices. The Landsat images show this noticeable increase of development.

Southeast of Shanghai is an area of major land change where a planned city is being built. Nanhui New City covers about 74 square kilometers and is intended to provide space for 800,000 people. It was formerly called Lingang New City and was renamed in April 2012.

The main feature of the new city is a circular artificial lake, visible in this series of images starting in 2004. Dishui Lake is 2.5 kilometers across and includes three artificial islands. The concentric structure of the city resembles a compass rose. The streets radiate out from the center. Waterways extend all over the city to support its theme of “waterside living.”

Off the coast is Yangshan Deep-Water Port, one of the largest shipping ports in the world. The huge port opened in 2005 and can handle the world’s largest container vessels. By 2020, it will be able to handle 25 million containers per year. More than half of Yangshan Port was built on reclaimed land.

The port connects to Nanhui New City by the Donghai Bridge. Construction of the bridge is visible in the 2004 image. It opened to general traffic in 2005. The 32.5-kilometer-long bridge carries six lanes of traffic and is one of the longest bridges in the world.


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