Lesson Plan - Salisbury University


Google Earth 5: Functionality, Capabilities, Case Studies and Geosciences Resources

Google Earth is FREE visualization software for examining earth surface and ocean basin features as well as content generated by private companies, government agencies and even everday users

(including you!). Moreover, with its widespread availability and user-friendly interface, educators at all levels and across geosciences disciplines have designed exercises utilizing the program. In addition, science researchers have also begun to take advantage of the no-cost imagery and Global Positioning

System linkages to support research endeavors around the world as well as in their local environment.

Today’s workshop will introduce the software’s basic functionality, present examples of its applications in geosciences education and exemplify its incorporation into geosciences research.

Part 1: Software Functionality

After downloading and installing Google Earth 5.0, start the program. Notice the program layout. The layout can be divided into five areas described in the following sections.

Image Display Window

The primary area of the software is the image display section. Here images of varying spatial resolutions (i.e. pixel sizes) and datedness have been mosaiced together to cover the entire planet. In the upper-right corner, you will see the navigation controls (note: you may need to move your cursor to the area to make the features visible). The first control orients the display to the north. Doubleclicking the N on the control re-orients to North as up…very useful. The second control allows you to pan. Note as you pan the geographic coordinate changes in the bottom center of the display area. The third control is a zoom slider. Note that as you move in and out of the image, your eye altitude changes and is displayed in the lower right corner. A scale bar is also available in the lower left and changes based on your position above the surface.

The second program area is the menu bar including the row of icons directly above the image display.

In this area of the software you will find the usual commands associated with most Windows based software. I will highlight several program areas and commands that may be useful to you in teaching.


Under file – save notice that you can save places identified in the program, my places folders created or imported in the software as well sections of images in the display area.

Under file – email you can e-mail placemarks and views to students, friends, and families.

You are also able to print information in the image display or directions menu.


Edit menu commands are linked to operations that can be performed on objects in the third area, the

Places section of the software (middle left beneath Search). This area is the most frequently utilized section in current educational applications.

Places area

The Places area enables users to collect and organize as well as import kml (Keyhole Markup

Language) and kmz (zipped kml files) files for examination in the image display section of the software. KML files are collections of geographic positions (e.g. points, lines, polygons), representative icons and descriptions produced by software users and personally constructed if

desired. The files are interchangeable with Google Maps and provide a useful structure to save geographic locations and information for student use as well as sharing. Additionally, their creation is very simple, just right-click the My Places icon in the Places menu or click the placemark/image icons above the display area. I will lead you through several examples of construction and importation. Locations for use in the files can be input via geographic coordinates (lat./long), searches or visual selection.

Once created, placemarks and/or images and shapes can be used as waypoints to create animated tours. You simply click the camera icon above the display area, press the record button in the lower left of the view area and select your placemarks in a desired sequence.

After completing the tour, press the record button again to stop the tour. Note the microphone icon – you can record narration and/or music if desired. You can save the tour into the My

Places folder for classroom use.


The view menu controls content and toolbars visible in the display area. Here you can hide unwanted objects as well as control several visible data layers and switch the image display area to Sky – for a tour of the universe. The surface of Mars can also be explored by pressing the planet icon above the image window. Note: some view functions are also controlled by the icons above the display area.

Another interesting view layer to display is historical imagery. When selected, a slider appears in the upper left and enables you to examine past imagery for selected surface areas.


Several interesting features exist in the tool section. You can open a web browser below the map area, add a rule to measure distances of lines or paths (series of lines). You can also import GPS data or even more impressively, connect a supported GPS unit and display positions in real-time. There is even a flight simulator interface to practice your flying skills….be careful!

Under options, you can adjust program settings for your computer and desired use. Coordinate systems, elevation units, terrain representation and vertical exaggeration can be modified in the 3D tab. Touring settings are modified under the touring tab and image navigation under the navigation tab. The general tab controls basic features like language settings and e-mail connectivity.


The add command enables users to create place features as described previously.


The help section contains the usual program aids. Tutorials, help centers and program information are included in this menu area.

The fourth area of the program is self-explanatory, the Search section. Here you can search Google’s database for geographic locations, features, businesses as well as generate directions between any locations in the database. Once a search is submitted, probable matches are displayed under the search box and a cross hair icon is placed in the image window.

The final section of the software is the Layers section in the lower left. This area allows users to select and display an incredible variety of geographic databases, including many types of science related content. You will have time to explore these databases however I want to highlight several sections.

The first dataset that is visually impressive and also useful in geosciences instruction in the terrain

model. By activating this layer, imagery is draped over a digital elevation model (DEM) thereby modeling topographic and terrain differences on the earth’s surface, including the ocean basins. Press and hold the mouse wheel to change perspective and view terrain differences. If you don’t have a mouse wheel, press and hold the down arrow in the N navigation control and move the mouse up and down to change perspective. Another neat resource is the volcano and earthquake dataset in the

Gallery folder. Click the displayed icons to read content associated with the feature or event.

You have now been introduced to the basics of Google Earth! Spend the next 30 to 45 minutes exploring the software, database and imagery content, and creating your own content (e.g. placemarks and movies) before we come back together and conclude Phase 1 with a show and tell.


Part 2: Geosciences Applications

In this phase, I will present several exercises developed for Google Earth by members our Department as well as the national geosciences community. We will spend the final portion of this section exploring an online library of exercises and brainstorming on applications for your classes.


Geog 105 Supplemental Lab. Google Earth

Google Earth is free and powerful visualization software that enables users to explore geographic features and data across the Earth’s surface. Earth features are portrayed via satellite images, and in some cases aerial photography, as well as using three dimensional digital elevation models (DEMs) and urban building models.

Additionally, layers provide the ability to overlay these two and three dimensional representations with both

Google provided and user-constructed content (e.g. transportation features, businesses, weather, etc.). This exercise is designed to introduce you to the Google Earth interface and to allow you to explore available information through Google’s navigational system. If you are unfamiliar with the software, use the diagram and legend below or follow the link to view a general overview of the software.

1. In the search panel, input the following coordinates and answer the questions related to each location.

Note: You do not need to include degrees, minutes and seconds symbology but you must leave a space and include cardinal compass direction. Be sure to turn on the terrain, geographic web, roads and place of interest layers if not already selected.

38 20 43.34 N, 75 36 21.12 W


What is the name of the feature located at this coordinate? b.

Select the measure tool and determine the length of the northeastern wing of the building in feet using the line option. ___________feet c.

Measure the distance from the building to your dorm, apartment or home in miles using the path option. _______________miles

36 06 19.56 N, 112 05 42.63 W

a. What is the name of the feature located at this coordinate? b. Zoom in to an altitude of about 40,000 feet over the feature. Use the tilt tool to visualize the environment from the oblique (3-D) perspective. Describe the topography (i.e. type of landscape) of the area? c. Use the navigation tools to explore the areas’ features and valleys and click on the point symbols to open additional content (Note: Be sure to turn on content in the Layers section).

Describe the types symbols visible and what they represent?

38 53 25.20 N, 77 00 33.69 W

a. What is the name of the feature located at this coordinate? b. Turn on the 3D buildings layer. Tilt the planar perspective (2-d) to the oblique perspective (3d). Explore the area containing the 3-D building. What differences do you notice between the buildings and their representations? c. Identify three buildings that interest you and provide their coordinates




GPS and Google Earth

Obtain a GPS unit from your instructor. After a brief tutorial on instrument use, collect the geographic coordinates (i.e., lat/long) of three features on campus that should be visible in the Google Earth imagery.

Next, input the coordinates in Google Earth and zoom in to the feature. Use the Google Earth measure tool to determine the distance from your recorded position and its position in the image.

Feature Coordinate Accuracy (diff distance)



_________ __________

_________ __________



________________ _________ __________ _____________________

Geog 105: Topographic Map Visualization - One method to represent a continuous variable

Examine the Cumberland, MD topographic quad and try to visualize landscape using contour lines. Focus your attention on the patterns representing high spots, low spots, ridges and river valleys. Once you feel that you can interpret the contour lines reasonably well, open Google Earth and search for Cumberland, Maryland. Once located, enable the terrain layer, and fly to the area. Compare your mental representation based on the topo map to the Google representation. Describe the differences. What areas or types of features were easiest to visualize? Which features were most difficult to visualize? Why?

Geog 219: Image Interpretation Lab Exercise

Image interpretation locations have been bookmarked in a Google Earth bookmark file (*.kml) found in

X:\ClassData\Geog219 directory. Open the file Geog219 Exercise.kml in Google Earth using the file, open command in the software. In the Places directory, double-click the appropriate bookmark to navigate to the image found at this location. Interpret these images to answer the following questions using the visual cues described in the lecture.

Using Bookmarks 1-5, identify the feature you see in the image. What was the one main visual cue you used to make your identification?

Section 1

Bookmark 1



_______________________ Bookmark 2

Bookmark 3

Bookmark 4



Bookmark 5 _______________________

Primary Visual Cue-Why did you choose this cue?






Answer the questions for the following bookmarks

Bookmark 6: What direction is the sunlight approximately coming from? How do you know?

Bookmark 7: Identify the location (e.g., lower right, center left) of a river, a road, and a small town. What cues did you use to identify these features?

River -

Road -

Town -

Bookmark 8: Look at the entire image. What type of place is this? How do you know? What are the dark features?

How do you know?

In the following bookmarks you’re going beyond simple identification and attempting to make sense of the pattern(s) you see in the image as a geographer would.

Bookmark 9: Border area between the US and Mexico. The agricultural patterns and tones are very different between the two countries. What differences between the US and Mexico could help explain this?

Bookmarks 10-12 show three types of deforestation patterns. Try to come up with reasonable explanations as to why these patterns look the way they do. You may have to take into account both the physical environment (e.g., topography) and human landuse practices. You may want to use the 3-D (“tilt”) option in Google Earth to answer these questions.

Bookmark 10

Bookmark 11

Bookmark 12

Section 2

In this section of the exercise, you will locate two examples of each visual cue presented in lecture and create your own bookmark file in the X:\ClassTurnIn\geog219\GoogleEarth directory. Remember to find two locations exemplifying each of the following cues: tone, shape, size, pattern, texture, shadow, association

Open Google Earth. Right-click the My Places heading in the Places section on the left side of the screen. Select add folder and rename the folder (youlastname219). When you locate an example of one of the cues, right-click the folder and select add placemark. Name the placemark cue# sequentially 1 through 14 until you’re done. Notice that you can change symbology for each placemark created. In the description section, describe the cue being represented and how it is important in image identification for your example! Once you’ve added your fourteen placemarks to the folder, rightclick the folder and select save place as. Save the file in the X:\ClassTurnIn\geog219\GoogleEarth directory in the

(yourlastname.kmz) format.

SERC Exercise Library at Carleton College

The Science Education Research Center (SERC) at Carleton College has compiled an extensive exercise base for geosciences instruction using Google Earth. An introduction can be found at the address below http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/visualize04/tool_examples/google_earth.html

or by submitting a Google search with the keywords Google Earth geosciences and selecting the first hit.

A complete listing of Google Earth exercises available on the web site is found at the address below. http://serc.carleton.edu/sp/library/google_earth/activities.html

Examine the exercise list and spend the next 30 minutes searching for an exercise that is applicable to your classroom and/or content area or that might be easily modified for your classroom setting.

Alternatively, I have included a KMZ file set that accompanies an introductory geology lab text called Earth_3E in the directory I provided you. Double-click the Earth_3E file name and Google Earth will load the directories and placemarks for your exploration. Take a look at several geotours and describe how Google Earth is being used and the types of placemarks identified by the authors. Given these examples, how can you use the program in your instruction?

We’ll come together and share our findings.


Phase 3: Applications for Research – One case study

We’ll end today’s workshop with a personal example of my use of Google Earth to support an interdisciplinary research project in a former Amazonian frontier settlement in Brazil. I’ve included KML files of GPS data collected and used in a GIS (geographic information system) to examine the spatial relationships and patterns of microeconomic land use decisions. I am currently using the high resolution (2.5 m spatial resolution) satellite imagery, in conjunction with interview data to identify large agricultural tracts in an effort to improve image classification and therefore landcover characterizations.

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