Google Earth, Paleogeographic Layer
Original research by Ron Blakely University of Arizona, GE export by Valery Horunsov
General and Earth Science: History of the Earth: Plate tectonics
Appropriate for 7th through 12th grade. No prerequisite knowledge is needed.
Windows 2000 or newer, 500 mb Pentium III or newer, 256 Mb RAM, 400 Mb Hard disc
space, 128 kbit/s network speed, 3d capable graphics card.
Mac OSX 10.4 or newer, 1 GHz processor, 256 MB RAM, 400 Mb Hard disc space, 128
kbit/s network speed, 3d capable graphics card.
Can be previewed on school of Ed computer lab
The Google Earth paleogeographic layer is an animated view of how the continents were
positioned on earth over the last four billion years. The user can control a time slider,
which gives dates in millions of years and lists the current geologic time period. The view
controls are the standard GE controls. Clicking and dragging can be used to spin the
globe, and a sidebar is used to zoom.
The software is best used to augment other instruction. For
example the Software could be used in a lesson designed to
meet Kansas State Science Standard 4-2, “Understands the
theory of Plate Tectonics explains that internal energy drives
the earth’s ever changing structure.” The instructor could
show the changing positions of continents on a computer
attached to a projector, and then ask students what could be
causing continents to move.
Students could also use the software on their own as part of an exploration activity, but I
would not recommend it until another version comes out. Sometimes the time slider
doesn’t seem to work and shows the wrong animation for the time period. Students
should be monitored as this can be confusing.
I would recommend the software despite its bugs. This is the only free version of a
tectonic animation that has perspective controls. It also features white shading for ice,
which gives some idea of climate. The animation is very useful. It is difficult to imagine
how plates are sliding on a spherical surface.
The instructor will dial the globe to 80 million years ago and focus on North America.
Questions will lead students towards noticing features like the giant sea covering Kansas,
the lack of Rocky Mountains. Students will be asked what type of fossils they would
expect to find from this time period in Kansas history. Students could sort through
limestone to find and identify fossils. The animation will be played forward and students
will see a plate along the west coast slide into North America and then disappear,
subducted under. Then the Rockies will start to rise, and the sea start to fade away. To
address the standard, topics like subduction will be related to landscape features we see
today. Locations of mountains and volcanoes can be compared to plate boundary lines.
Layer can be downloaded here: