TILT TWTW – Google Earth Laituri 2009
This exercise will focus on using Google Earth to demonstrate biocomplexity concepts
central for geo‐visualization. The aims of this exercise are threefold:
To exhibit the utility of Google Earth to present fundamental concepts in an
To identify the role of geography and show the utility of “thinking spatially” in
the use and understanding spatial information and analysis; and
To link these activities to education standards in areas of math, science, and
technology to ensure the development of critical thinking skills and problem
Geospatial technologies demand that we understand fundamental scientific concepts in
new and different ways. Interactive maps that allow for querying, panning, and
zooming in and out are very different from traditional analog maps creating a dynamic
environment for exploration and analysis.
What is Google Earth? http://earth.google.com/
Google Earth uses satellite imagery and aerial photography to create a base layer or
mosaic that covers the globe. The imagery is regularly updated; however image dates
vary depending upon availability. Digital elevation models (DEMs) are used to view
areas in three dimensions, such as the Grand Canyon. Google Earth integrates other
programs via the Geographic Web: Wikipedia and Panoramio. Vector data, such as
roads, place names, vary greatly throughout the world. The Google Earth Community is
an online forum of placemarks, tours, and educational materials
There are three different licenses available, each with increasing functionality:
Google Earth: free version (which this workshop will use);
Google Earth Plus ($20 annual fee);
Google Earth Pro ($400 annual fee).
Google Earth capabilities
Searching for locations:
One can zoom around the earth finding places by using landmarks, natural formations
and distances from known urban areas. However, if you know the latitude and
longitude or the Northing and Easting coordinates (Universal Transverse Mercator –
UTM), you can use the cursor to find that location or entering the coordinates into the
TILT Workshop: Google Earth—2009 Laituri 1
There is a Sightseeing folder that contains several placemarks. These locations can be
visited by using the check box next to the location and double clicking on the place
Google Earth comes with a list of standard layers that can be turned on and off by
clicking on the check box. New layers are being developed and can be downloaded from
a variety of websites.
Google Earth tours:
You can create your own tours with specific themes. Tours provide an effective way to
automate a fly‐by of geographic places and geologic features by adding placemarks and
hyperlinks to a tour folder.
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Digital images, such as aerial photos and topographic maps, can be draped over the
earth’s surface. Placemarks can also be added to the image overlay. You can also view
historical imagery that is available for portions of the earth: Click on View/Historical
Converting from other data formats to KML (Keyhole Markup Language):
KML is the computer language for managing the display of three‐dimensional geospatial
data in application programs. Using different freeware programs, shapefiles can be
converted to kml to be compatible in the image window.
Trivia: The word Keyhole is an earlier name for the software that became
Google Earth; the software was produced in turn by Keyhole, Inc., which
was acquired by Google Earth in 2004. The term “Keyhole” honors the KH
reconnaissance satellites, the original eye‐in‐the‐sky military
reconnaissance system that is 30 years old. Source: Wikipedia
Coordinate System and Projection:
Geographic coordinates (latitutde/longitude), Google Earth uses a simple cylindrical
(Plate Carree) projection with a general perspective (referring to the source of light
that would project the globe onto a flat surface using a near earth distance). World
Geodetic System 1984 (WGS84) datum.
15 meters, globally – depends upon the quality of the satellite/aerial photos
uploaded; some locations, such urban areas, have much higher resolutions.
There are two basic Google Earth file types:
KML: text‐based file composed of Tags similar to XML or HTML
KMZ: KML files that have been zipped along with related files
Google Earth supports the following image formats: *.jpg, *.bmp, *.tif, *.png,
*.jpeg, *.gif. *.tiff, *.ppm
Is Google Earth a Geographic Information System (GIS)?
Google Earth is not a conventional GIS such as ArcGIS, Idrisi, Intergraph, GRASS as it
does not provide fundamental analysis capabilities such as buffer, interpolation, or
attribute analysis. However it does offer data visualization and display to facilitate
geospatial thinking about such geographic concepts as: proximity, connectivity,
adjacency, continuity, pattern and overlay.
Google Earth Basics:
Viewing the Earth: Refer to the handout, Google Earth navigation. A key aspect of
viewing is that once you have zoomed in close enough, you can tilt the earth to
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allow for you to view the surface in three dimensions and fly over the earth’s
Turn on Terrain layer in the Layers Window. Rotate the inner part of the
Projection: A map projection is a mathematical expression used to represent the
sphere or 3 dimensional surface of the earth on a flat 2‐dimensional surface.
Projections result in some level and type of distortion: area, scale, shape, and
direction. Google Earth uses a simple cylindrical projection. In this projection
meridians and parallels are equidistant, straight lines crossing at right angles.
‐Introduction to Map Projections
‐The Geographer’s Craft ‐ Map Projections
Datum: The datum describes the actual shape of the earth in mathematical terms.
Since the earth is actually a sphere, ellipsoid and spheroids are used to define the
shape. Google Earth uses World Geodetic System 1984 (WGS84).
Coordinate Systems: The globe can be viewed using different coordinate systems in
Google Earth: latitude and longitude and UTMs.
Let’s examine 3 different ways of looking at the earth. In Google Earth, select
Tools/Options/3D View. Click on the button for Degree, Minutes, Seconds. Click
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Select View/Grid from the menu bar at the top.
Examine the globe. Zoom to the origin of the grid – where the Equator meets
the Prime Meridian.
Latitude (parallels) and longitude (meridians) form an imaginary network over
the earth’s surface (graticule). Degrees of latitude and longitude (Global
Reference System) are used to locate exact positions on the surface of the globe,
they are not uniform measures on the Earth’s surface. This reference system
measures angles from the center of the Earth, rather than distances on the
Select Tools/Options/3DView. Click on Universal Transverse Mercator. Click OK.
Many GIS applications use the UTM coordinate system. The Universal
Transverse Mercator (UTM) grid system starts at the 180o meridian of longitude
and divides the globe into narrow strips, each 6o of longitude in width (Fig 5).
Each zone (numbered 1 through 60) has a central meridian. The central meridian
of each zone has a value of 500,000 m (meters) in order to avoid negative
numbers at the west edge of the zone, and to preclude the requirement for N, S,
E, W designations. For the Northern hemisphere, the equator is assigned the
value of zero meters. Therefore, you always use the UTM grid by reading right
and up. (For the Southern Hemisphere, the equator is assigned a value of
10,000,000 m, and the numbers decrease toward the South Pole.)
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The Universal Transverse Mercator Geographic Coordinate System:
‐The Geographer’s Craft –Coordinate Systems
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1. Comparing geographic representation:
Compare cartograms to Google Earth imagery. A cartogram redraws a map with
the regions of interest larger or smaller based upon a characteristic of interest.
Examine the globe in Google Earth. Pan around the globe and consider the
size of Puerto Rico as compared to the maps below.
What kinds of comparative questions would you ask your students?
Source: Images of the social and economic world:
This is a map where sizes of the countries of the world are in proportion to their actual sizes on
the surface of the planet and their shapes are the same as their actual shapes with sizes of
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In this map the sizes of countries are not proportional to their actual landmass but
instead to the number of people living there; a country with 20 million people, for
instance, appears twice as large as a country with 10 million. Notice the size of Puerto
2. Identify connectivity.
In Google Earth, turn on the Roads Layer:
Turn on the Scale legend: Select View/Scale Legend.
Zoom out so that the entire globe can be viewed. Slowly begin to zoom in until
the roads layer becomes visible.
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Note the scale: _________________
Now, zoom to another part of the world and determine at what scale the roads
Note the scale: _________________
Discuss scale, resolution and data issues.
Spatial resolution: is a measure of the smallest object that can be
resolved by the sensor, or the linear dimension on the ground
represented by each pixel or grid cell in the image
‐Scale in Geography: http://www.geog.ucsb.edu/~montello/pubs/scale2.pdf
‐On Definitions of Scale:
Compare specific locations around the globe.
What does this suggest about development? What does inferences
might you draw about connectivity?
3. Identify hierarchy, non‐linearity, and self‐organization of water systems.
On Google Earth, turn on the Water Bodies layers in Primary Database/Places of
Zoom into Puerto Rico. You should notice that there are very few water bodies.
What this means is that there is very little hydrology for Puerto Rico that is
currently in Google Earth. However, we can still examine the concepts of
biocomplexity in another part of the world.
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In the Fly To box, type: Nile River, Egypt.
‐Zoom in to be able to see the Nile River delta. You should look at it with
both the Water Bodies layer turned on and then turn it off to examine
the satellite imagery.
‐What does this tell you about the landscape?
Now, Fly To the Danube River in Europe. Follow the River to its delta. Compare
this delta to the Nile River.
Fly to the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. Find its river delta.
Are there similarities between these deltas?
4. Physical and human characteristics of places by zooming in.
Open the Google Earth My Places. Open the Sightseeing folder.
Click on the box next to Grand Canyon, US. Click on the Play button below My
Turn off the Grand Canyon.
Click on Christ the Redeemer, Brazil and hit Play.
Compare the physical landscape of both areas.
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5. Developing a Tour
For this activity, find a partner. You will create a tour of the some locations of interest
that demonstrate one or more biocomplexity concepts. Using your knowledge and the
resources of Google Earth and the Internet, identify 4 to 5 places that you include on
Make a list of your locations.
In Google Earth, create a new folder: Add/Folder. Give your folder a meaningful
name. Give your tour a meaningful description. Click OK.
Zoom to the first stop on your tour. Create a new placemark: Add/Placemark or
click on the Add Placemark icon . Be sure that your Folder is highlighted –
then when you select the placemark it will be stored in the proper folder.
Give your placemark a meaningful name. Create a description that explains how
this demonstrates a biocomplexity concept. Click OK.
Each successive placemark will be added to the Places window in the
selected folder. Tours play from top to bottom in the list. You can
rearrange the locations by clicking and dragging.
When you are done, highlight the top folder where all your placemarks are
located and right click. Select Save As.. Give your file a meaningful name and
save it in a location that you will remember.
View the tour. Be sure all locations are checked. Press the Play button at the
bottom of the Places window.
Share your tour with another group and discuss the biocomplexity themes you
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