Google Earth

Last Updated: May 13th, 2019

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Google Earth is an interactive virtual globe, or geobrowser, that allows users to explore maps, images, terrain, and geographic information. Google Earth combines features of satellite and aerial imagery, ocean bathymetry, and geographical information systems.

Users can view locations perpendicularly from above, as with a typical map, and can also rotate, zoom, and pan their view. In an oblique, or tilted view, a combination of images and elevation data can provide a three dimensional model of geographic features or cityscapes. Google’s Street View is fully integrated into Google Earth, allowing users to navigate through street-level views of metropolitan areas at ground level.

Google Earth utilizes layers to make data manageable. Users select which layers are “on,” or active, and which are not displayed to customize views. These data layers include infrastructure such as lodging, businesses, and roads, as well as labels for geographic features. Additional layers include “terrain,” which simulates elevation changes, and “3D Buildings,” which models urban environments, though this layer is only available for a few large cities. While any of these layers can be utilized together, terrain and 3D Buildings are best viewed in tilted mode. A Wikipedia layer can be utilized to access information about specific locations utilizing geographic coordinates. A flight simulator allows users to view large areas quickly, as though flying over.

Despite its name, Google Earth also includes data about and images of the earth’s oceans, the earth’s moon, and a variety of places in our solar system. Google Sky utilizes both archived and newly-released photographs to create a virtual planetarium with plants, stars, galaxies, and constellations. Students can virtually visit both Mars and the Earth’s moon via Google Earth with data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Application to All Courses

Google Earth utilizes Keyhole Markup Language (KML) to read and create data files, and can produce images for use in presentations or papers. Google Earth can serve as a tool for presentations, discussions, and problem solving.

Students can use Google Earth individually or in groups, exploring regions on their own or completing structured activities. The program contains huge amounts of data on both geographic and anthropogenic features, providing many opportunities for research questions. Instructors can use KML files to direct students to specific locations to explore or answer questions; alternatively, students can use KML files to respond to assignments. Students can also create mashups with other web applications such as Wikipedia and Flickr.

Getting Started

Google Earth is available as downloadable software, as a browser plugin, and as an app for iPhone or Android smartphones. Google Earth Pro is now free to download and use.

Google Earth has a user guide along with short tutorials and training videos to help you get started here.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data, including both vector and raster data, can be imported into Google Earth as long as files are defined with the correct coordinate system.

Additional Resources

Accessibility Statement

Keep accessibility in mind as you develop course content and build assignments and assessments. Many online tools are not fully accessible, so it’s important to think about how you will make the assignment accessible if requested. The Disability Resource Center and the UF Accessibility page will guide you in making appropriate accommodations. You can also find out more about accessibility at our toolbox page on Accessibility in the Online Classroom.

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