한국어 | January 16, 2017
January 16, 2017
Watching from above: N. Korea’s development, in satellite imagery
Watching from above: N. Korea’s development, in satellite imagery
Google Earth's "Timelapse" feature shows Pyongyang under construction
January 9th, 2017

Google Earth imagery of North Korea now goes back year-by-year to 1984, casting light on the pace of progress at major sites around the city, a Timelapse update released on the platform in November shows.

The imagery update could help Google Earth users focused on North Korea better understand changes in infrastructure, agriculture, and the economy, an expert said.

“This imagery update is very helpful for tracking long-term changes. We now can more easily track projects that started under Kim Il-Sung, like the West Sea Barrage, highway construction, and agricultural field reforms,” Scott LaFoy, a researcher focusing on satellite imagery, told NK News.

“This update will be very helpful for tracking macro-level changes that have occurred over the past few decades.”

While satellite images from the 80’s and 90’s were too blurry to conduct meaningful comparisons in many cases, however, some symbolic landmarks such as the Ryukyong Hotel, Kumsusan Palace of the Sun and Rungrado 1st of May Stadium can still be seen.

As seen in the featured image of this article, North Korea’s recently refurbished Rungrado 1st of May Stadium – the largest stadium in the world – was nowhere to be seen in the satellite image of 1984.

Groundwork (represented by the yellowish soil) can be seen in 1986, followed by what looks like the half-completed frame of the stadium in 1987.

What appears to be a completed white dome appears in the image from 1989, matching multiple South Korean reports that it was finished that year.

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The Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, formerly known as the Kumsusan Assembly Hall and Kim Il Sung’s office | Credit: Google Earth, edited by NK News

The Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, now a giant mausoleum in Pyongyang, has changed its name twice.

Finished in 1977, the Kumsusan Assembly Hall, or Juseok-gung (National Leader’s palace)was used as Kim Il Sung’s office until his death in 1994.

The image (left) taken in December 1994, several months after Kim’s death, showed that the building remained unchanged from the major refurbishment that was about to follow over the next decade.

On the following year, in 1995, as seen in the image placed in the middle, Kim Il Sung’s office was soon turned into “marble-heavy” Kumsusan Memorial Palace to store his dead body, so that the North Koreans could visit and pay respect to their former leader.

The building maintained its title until 2012, a year after the death of Kim Jong Il, when Kim Jong Un decided to change its name to Kumsusan Palace of the Sun.

The concrete plaza, seen on the right (taken in 2000), was big enough to store around 200,000 people, South Korea’s government said, with a width of 415 meters, symbolizing Kim Il Sung’s birthday (April 15), and a length of 216 meters, symbolizing Kim Jong Il’s birthday.

Trees and vegetation were planted after 2012, turning the concrete plaza into the park.

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Ryogyong Hotel since 1987 | Credit: Google Earth, edited by NK News

Ryugyong Hotel, one of Pyongyang’s most recognizable landmarks, can be seen from Google Earth’s new feature as well.

The location where the hotel now stands was a flat residential zone until 1986, when it was demolished and groundwork began the following year, the image on the left suggested.

The triangular shadow seen in the 1988 image indicated that the hotel’s concrete frame was finished that year. It was left in that state until around 2008, when Orascom, the Egyptian majority shareholder of North Korea’s Koryolink cellphone network, was obliged to add window panes to the concrete structure as part of its deal to enter the DPRK telecommunications sector.

Photos released by the Beijing-based Koryo Tours agency showed in 2012 that the structure was still empty, without fixtures or furnishings visible. A visitor to Pyongyang late last year, however, shared video which revealed that construction may have restarted.

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The center of Pyongyang 1984 and 2016 | Credit: Google Earth, edited by NK News

Work on the stadium and the North’s tallest building both began around 1987, a time when competition between South Korea and North Korea was still fierce.

A long-time North Korea researcher and former first deputy chief of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) said that the two landmarks were most likely the result of North Korea’s desire to win the propaganda war against South Korea in the 1980s.

“While the images are unclear, I think your questions are mostly correct,” Dr. Ra Jong-yil said, when asked if Rungrado 1st of May Stadium was built to counter the Seoul Olympic Stadium, and the Ryugyong Hotel to counter Seoul’s 63 Building, a skyscraper that was the tallest in Asia in 1985.

“The North and the South, at that time, responded the same way (by trying to break each other’s records). I called it in my book the ‘Dynamics of Adversarial Duo,’ the relationship that the two had at that time.”

Featured Image: Google Earth, edited by NK News

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