Google Earth Narrated Tours: More than Just Sound

One of the more common feature requests for Google Earth Projects, and one I have posted on before (link to post), is adding narration or sound. While adding audio can add value to any story, there are some other hacks creators can add to enhance an Earth project. The two hacks I often use in creating Google Earth Stories include “camera” movements along with showing and hiding features, before, during, and after the narration. In addition, many Google Earth Projects I create have some sort of Toggle option for viewers to click. Who does not like clicking buttons?

Here are how these engagement techniques work, stop by stop, in a story about the Suez Canal.

TL;DR: Link to The Suez Canal – A Google Earth Narrated Tour

Panel #1 – “Google Earth Narrated Tour – Suez Canal”

Every story starts with a full screen slide. However, this slide is doing more than introducing the story. The JavaScript associated with the slide is setting up all the assets. The assets include points, lines, folders, overlays, etc. The script itself is hiding all the assets that will be used in the story and making sure all the folders are set to be visible. This function is for every panel; making sure the scene is set for each stop in the story.

Panel #2 – “Suez Canal”

In this scene, the audio is facilitating a lot more than just playing a narration. I often use on time functions, events that are triggered at certain times in the media, to show/hide features or move the camera. For example, in this scene an orange path for the Suez Canal is set to be visible at the 2.5 second mark of the audio. Because the path is set to visible during the narration, the toggle switch in the panel is also toggled on. At 6.5 seconds the camera pans out, so the user can observe the connection between the Mediterranean and Red Seas.

In addition, to create more viewer engagement, there is an “Explore” section in the panel that gives viewers the opportunity to observe the physical and human characteristics along the path of the Suez Canal.

Panel #3 – “Suez Canal – Time and Distance Savings”

There are a couple of, in my opinion, cool features in this stop of the story. First, there are two camera changes that allow the user to visualize both paths: one through the Suez Canal and the other around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. Like the stop before, these movements are timed to the audio. The first movement around the 5 second mark and the other around the 13 second mark.

Second, and probably cooler, is the utilization of Google’s Maps API with Google Earth. Google Earth’s sphere shape, while more accurate to reality, limits the viewer from seeing both paths in one viewport; hence the two camera movements in the scene. Cooler yet, is that toggle switches for both paths hide and show the lines on both Google Earth and Google Maps.

Lastly, viewers have an explore section within the story that allows the student to think about the similarities between both routes.

Panel #4 – “Suez Canal – Value”

In addition to the timed camera movement, this stop utilizes map tiled overlays (x,y,z overlays) for both Google Earth and Google Maps API. Since Google Earth for Web uses the same tile overlay structure as most web mapping platforms, the source of the actual tile images are the same; both hosted on Google Cloud Platform (GCP) storage. Once again, the toggle switches work for both Google Earth and Maps. Like other stops, this panel has a question for viewers to explore.

Panel #5 – “Ever Given – 3/23/2021”

Stop 5 has the same features as stop 4, just at a different scale. This overlay is a Maxar Satellite image of the Ever Given blocking the Suez Canal. The alignment is not perfect, but overlaying satellite images on top of each other rarely is. The toggle switch hides the overlay. This allows viewers to see changes that have taken place since the Ever Given incident.  

Panel #6 – “Suez Canal – The Aftermath”

In typical fashion, the last panel ends the viewer’s journey, but also allows the view to play with all the layer features presented in the story. This allows viewers, mostly teachers and students, the opportunity to explore and discuss the featured layers outside the structure of a story.

Bonus – Where to start?

1. I always start with some sort of script. The format is a little different on this story, but normally I have the text, the visualization/feature to be used Earth, and the media to be used within the panel. Link to Suez Canal story script

2. Second, I set up the folder structure within Google Earth Projects. The first stop is always a full screen introduction page followed by folders for each stop. Folders are easier for me to keep track of a story. The last folder of a story has all the features and movements nested within it.

3. Once I have all the features and movements figured out I export the project as a kml to get their feature ids.

4. With the feature ids, I can control the camera and visibility of features using simple JavaScript.

Would you like more?

Let me know via Twitter or Facebook if interested in how to create Custom HTML to control camera movement and the visibility of Google Earth Features. Maybe if enough people are interested, maybe I can create a how-to tutorial.

For more Google Earth examples, check out this post “Best Google Earth Projects of 2022 – by” (Link)

Best Google Earth Projects of 2022 – by

Google Earth Projects ‘22

What a weird year! During the school year I spend most of my bandwidth teaching and learning with students. This often only leaves June, July, and a couple of weeks in December to maintain, clean, and update However, I also use this time to tinker with Google Earth. Here are my favorite projects of the year.

Please note that many of these stories work best without clouds, so you might want to click the Map Style icon and uncheck “Clouds” in the “Custom” option. Maybe toggle-off 3D buildings for some stories too.

Also, pro-Workspace EDU tip. Many EDU admins block sharing Docs, Sheets, and yes Google Earth projects from users outside the EDU organization. Simply open the shared link with your teacher’s account and make a copy. Then share the copied project with your students.

What are the different types of plate tectonic boundaries? (Link to Google Earth Story)

My favorite Google Earth Project is always the last one I created. In this case, it is a quick lesson on types of plate boundaries.

A component of most geography, and Earth science, courses include processes that create landforms. Divergent, convergent, and transform boundaries are inner-earth processes that are discussed in just about all these classrooms. NOAA has a great one pager ( discussing these boundary types.

Add a couple of layers to a Google Earth project can easily create greater engagement for a static webpage with a lot of great information. In this case, the layers added are Earth’s Plates from the U.S. Geological Survey, a flashy plate boundaries map from NOAA, the tried-and-true Seafloor Age and 10,000 years of volcanoes maps from NOAA, and lastly, 5+ magnitude earthquakes from 2016.

What are El Niño and La Niña? (Link to Google Earth Story)

The 100 degrees started early in 2022. One day, I was reading about a double, and potential triple, dip La Niña. While falling down the rabbit hole, I ran across a NOAA page titled What are El Niño and La Niña? ( Maybe a day later the Earth project was completed with using tiled map layers of NOAA images.

Read more about the project here. (

Dynamic Landscapes Projects (Link to Google Earth Story)

Looking at changes through geographic and temporal scales is one of the engagement tools used when using Google Earth, or really any geo-technology, in the classroom.

For about five years now I have waited to import a csv file into an Earth Project, like in Google’s My Maps. In July, tired of waiting, I decided to import 2013 tornado data into Google’s Earth Engine and create an image file of this point data.

In addition to adding point data, I have always wanted to use historic Street View in a project. If I was going to use historic Street View in a project, I probably should use historic imagery too.

Put all these together and you create the Dynamic Landscapes Projects. These four stories (Tornado in Moore, OK; 2011 wildfires in Bastrop, TX; the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake/Tsunami; and finally, the Notre-Dame Cathedral fire in Paris, France) look at these changing landscapes at different; the closest using historic Street View.

Sendia, Miyagi (June 2011/March 2022)

Read more about the project here. (

Earth’s Changing Oceans (Link to Google Earth Story)

Technically created in October/November of 2021, this story illustrates the relationship between Earth’s oceans and climates. The information comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (

The map layers are from various resources, mostly NOAA. The challenge with this project was, and still is, how to utilize Earth’s folder structure in a non-linear story. Hence the blue “BACK TO STORY” buttons at the bottom of some of the panels. This button gets the reader back to where they left off in the story.

A common “hack” in this in this project is in using the previous/next image in the carousel to also change the map overlay on Google Earth.  Maybe one day I will find a more creative solution, but so far, I have not found one that works equally well across computers and phones.

Continental Drift (Link to Google Earth Story)

This story was first created in 2017 as a kml file. Over a year ago the Google Earth team added tile overlays to Earth Projects. This was one of those stories that fits well with this update. The story uses a Sci-Fi channel YouTube snippet about Alfred Wegner. From there, students can explore the distribution of ancient fossils that helped Wegner, and others, theorize continental drift.

The point data for Glossopteris, Mesosaurus, Cynognathus, and Lystrosaurus fossils comes from The Paleobiology Database ( After a failed attempt to rasterize the points and create a tiled map, I manually added the fossil point data.

Like Earth’s Changing Oceans Project, clicking through the image carousel on slide eight changes the Earth; illustrating the breakup of Pangea to today’s present Earth.

I’m Australian Too! (Link to Google Earth Story)

A Google Earth Project read along was converted from a kml to a project this year using Earth Project’s folder structure.

Several years ago, I received permission from Ms. Fox’s publisher to create this story, “as long as I don’t make any money.” That was a very easy condition to meet, considering I’ve never made any money from any of my projects. This project is a great littles story about migration and the potential for progress among places.

Click this here if you would like to explore past Google Earth Projects created for the classroom.

Have a safe and happy 2023! maps used in my Advanced Human Geography course

The Wizarding World (one of several map easter eggs)

Background Advanced Geography –

Over the past decade+ years, I have attempted to create and curate maps that are easy to access, compare, and share. Deciding on what map visualizations to include in has been a thoughtfully thoughtless process. Basically, during class either students or I will say, “if only we had a map for that.” That thoughtless progress has slowly created 200+ maps within Which is great for me, because I was part of the class flow that decided if a certain map is needed. In other words, it is easy for me to incorporate all 200+ maps in the courses throughout the year because the data sets originate around experiences of what I teach.

That stated, with 200+ maps, and the fact that it is not easy organizing that many visualizations, I can understand how‘s curated library can be a bit overwhelming. Therefore, below are two tables with the maps commonly used when teaching “Population and Migration Patterns and Processes” and “Industrial and Economic Development Patterns and Processes.” The maps and concepts mostly come straight from the College Board’s Human Geography Course and Exam Description. There are a couple of extra maps, to string narratives mostly around dependency ratio, movement, and population pressures.

To display a map in, click select map at the bottom right of each map canvas. The table will help you find where these maps are found in’s menu structure.

Lastly, what places should students focus on? This year my colleague suggested we use the global regions and the most populous country within those regions as our focal points. We use the Population Reference Bureau to categorize our regions. Yes, there are always outliers, but this gives the students common comparisons to make at the global and global regional scales. See below

Global RegionSubregionCountry Name
AfricaEastern AfricaEthiopia
AfricaMiddle AfricaCongo, Dem. Rep.
AfricaNorthern AfricaEgypt, Arab Rep.
AfricaSouthern AfricaSouth Africa
AfricaWestern AfricaNigeria
AmericasCentral AmericaMexico
AmericasNorthern AmericaUnited States
AmericasSouth AmericaBrazil
AsiaCentral AsiaUzbekistan
AsiaEast AsiaChina
AsiaSouth AsiaIndia
AsiaSoutheast AsiaIndonesia
AsiaWestern AsiaTurkey
EuropeEastern EuropeRussian Federation
EuropeNorthern EuropeUnited Kingdom
EuropeSouthern EuropeItaly
EuropeWestern EuropeGermany
Population Reference Bureau Regions

Analyzing “Population and Migration Patterns and Processes” –

Population Distribution

MapsPhysical or Human GeographyMap Set
Population DensityHuman GeographyPopulation Density
Earth at NightHuman GeographyEarth at Night – 2016

Population Distribution and Land Use

Maps Physical or Human Geography Map Set
Arable landHuman GeographyGeography-Land
CroplandHuman GeographyGeography-Land
PasturelandHuman GeographyGeography-Land
Food v. FeedHuman GeographyGeography-Land

Demographics – Population Composition

Maps Physical or Human Geography Map Set
Total fertility rateHuman GeographyDemographics
Crude birth rateHuman GeographyDemographics
Crude death rateHuman GeographyDemographics
Migration (net)Human GeographyDemographics
Growth rateHuman GeographyDemographics
Infant mortality rateHuman GeographyDemographics
Total dependency ratioHuman GeographyDemographics
Youth dependency ratioHuman GeographyDemographics
Elderly dependency ratioHuman GeographyDemographics

Gender Inequality Index

Map Physical or Human Geography Map Set
Gender Inequality Index (GII)Human GeographyGender Inequality

Global Human Modification (population pressure)

Map Physical or Human Geography Map Set
Global Human Modification Human GeographyAnthropocene

Analyzing “Industrial and Economic Development Patterns and Processes” –

Human Development Index

Map Physical or Human Geography Map Set
2018 – HDIHuman GeographyHuman Development Index

Economic Indicators

Maps Physical or Human Geography Map Set
GDP (per capita)Human GeographyEconomy
GNI (per capita)Human GeographyEconomy
Agriculture/mining labor
(% of labor force)
Human GeographyEconomy
Industry labor
(% of labor force)
Human GeographyEconomy
Service labor
(% of labor force)
Human GeographyEconomy

Health Indicators

Maps Physical or Human Geography Map Set
Infant mortality rateHuman GeographyDemographics
Life expectancyHuman GeographyDemographics
Physicians densityHuman GeographySociety

Social Indicators

Maps Physical or Human Geography Map Set
Electricity – fossil fuels
(% of Capacity)
Human GeographyEnergy
Electricity – renewable resources
(% of Capacity)
** According to source,
burning timber is renewable **
Human GeographyEnergy
Literacy rate – totalHuman GeographySociety
Gender Inequality Index (GII)Human GeographyGender Inequality

Sorry about the video music. I have an odd appreciation for YouTube’s stock music.

New Google Earth Projects: Dynamic Landscapes

TL;DR: Google Earth Projects: Dynamic Landscapes (Link to Projects)

Figure: Dynamic Landscapes Main Menu

One of my favorite concepts to teach and think about is this idea of scale and how our landscapes constantly change. Google Geo has a couple of tools that help capture both these concepts. First, Google has organized years of remote sensing images from several vendors. Many students and teachers have used Google Earth Engine’s Timelapse and/or have used Google Earth Pro’s (Desktop) “Historic Imagery.” With these tools, viewers can see a changing landscape from above. For example, the images below, from Google Earth Pro’s Historic Imagery, visualize Warsaw Poland in 1935 and 1945. In addition, Google Maps, not Earth, has historic Street View going back, in some places, for 15 years.

The goal of these Google Earth projects is to tell stories using these concepts of spatial and temporal scales. The four stories chosen to tell using these scales include the 2013 EF5 Tornado in Moore, OK; 2011 wildfires in Bastrop, TX; the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake/Tsunami; and finally, the Notre-Dame Cathedral fire in Paris, France.

Figure: Damage Path EF5 Tornado Moore, Ok 2013

While these catastrophes are life altering to those living thorough these events, I find it, as a teacher, easier to create empathy in students when these events can shift between small-scale/small detail to large scale large detail. In other words, at a small-scale students can see the extent of how much was damaged, but might miss the personal stories of loss, heroism, and perseverance. Shifting the perspective to the large-scale/large detail of Street View gives a glimpse of these personal narratives. Hopefully facilitating the growth of an empathetic citizen willing to help their world.

Figure: Historic Street View – TX Highway 21 (Left Image: 2011 | Right Image: 2013)

On the technology side, there is a little of everything Google Geo has to offer. The stories themselves are curated Wikipedia and US government websites using data from NOAA, FEMA, Google Earth Imagery, and Google’s Street View. The visual format of the stories’ panels were created using custom HTML with help from Google’s Material Design Lite and a little JS to show/hide layers and style the media. The Google Earth Layers are all tiled (x,y,z) raster images either created using MapTiler or, in some cases, Google Earth Engine. The historic Street View panels are done using Google Maps API. And lastly Google Earth Studio was used to create the spinning Earth found in the Dynamic Landscapes’ Main Menu project.

Figure: Earth Engine 2013 Tornado Data – Source NWS

In other words, these stories are an experimental convergence of hacks. And while I think they look fantastic; they will always be amateur. However, these stories could look so much more polished, and scalable, with a couple of Google Earth for Web features. First, historical imagery and historical Street View that could be included in Google Projects. Second, toggle switch widgets for showing/hiding layers. Third, and one that I have been unable to hack yet, would be the ability to “set a scene” by enabling and disabling Map Styles like visible features (roads, places, poi), 3d imagery and clouds:) The ability to add ground overlays would also be useful to many users. This would remove some friction that is introduced with tile overlays. Lastly, and this will probably make no sense to anyone, but the ability to assign Ids to features like placemarks (points, lines, polygons), ground overlays (tiles), folders, full screen panels, etc. While I am at it…maybe the Earth Engine team could help me out with exporting video (x,y,z) tiles from Earth Engine’s code editor. Very selfish request.

Figure: Tōhoku Tsunami Model – Source NOAA

Anyways, please let me know via Twitter or Facebook if you would like for me to create a tutorial on anything you found interesting within these stories. I truly enjoy creating and learning from these experiences.

What are El Niño and La Niña? Google Earth Project

TL;DR What are El Niño and La Niña? Google Earth Project

I love finding informational U.S. government websites that fit the curriculum. In this case, and many others, NOAA created a page that does a really good job informing viewers about El Niño and La Niña (Link). What I enjoy about these sites is the opportunity to add value by transferring them into Google Earth stories. Now students can get the information in a package that allows for a bit more exploration. Or at least students get to push more buttons.

Anyways, please take if for a spin and share away if you think it will help student. Click here to open Google Earth Project: What are El Niño and La Niña?

If you are interested, here are some additional Google Earth Stories.

PSA: Teachers…If you are wanting to share this or other Google Projects with students and your school is a Google EDU campus. You might have to first share to your Teacher Workspace EDU account and then make a copy. (Three dot icon next to the trash can icon –> “Copy Project” Then share the copy to your students. Most EDU accounts do not allow for outside domain sharing. This puts a copy within your EDU Domain.