It has been a crazy couple of weeks, months, years! From my first glance at Google Earth for web to the present day, the same three ideas have circulated; explore, create, share. I am sure that I heard those in some chat at one time; or heard a version of them, but these ideas have percolated into my current framing of Google Earth. With the initial release of Google Earth for web, several years ago, most users could only explore. Technically speaking, people could create and share with the web version from the start, but with the November 20, 2019 launch of creation tools it is now easy for everyone to explore, create, and share.
While Google Earth project templates allow for compelling stories with Google’s rich imagery in combination with media (images, YouTube) and text, using the “Switch to HTML” option in the info box might be a glimpse into the potential of this storytelling platform. It is with these two perspectives, one being an effective and easy entry point the other being a stretch, I share these early explorations and creations.
Most of the ideas for these creations come from my news feeds. Basically, I read a story and think that would work better on Google Earth.
Last October (2018) I was speaking with a Google Earth
Engineer. We were discussing an array of Geo technologies used in the classroom
from ESRI’s ArcGIS to QGIS to My Maps and Google Earth. Somehow, we got on the
topic of Google Earth Engine and the engineer suggested that there were enough
demos out in the wild that I should be able to hack something together.
Therefore, during the winter break I put together my first Google Earth Engine
What is Google Earth Engine?
First, and most confusing, is that Google Earth Engine is not Google Earth. Most educator’s experience with an Earth Engine app is Google’s Timelapse. Timelapse is super cool! Think of it like this: Imagine you took a selfie of yourself every day for a year. Then have a machine, or a lot of machines in my case, analyze each pixel in every image for the best and clearest pixel for that location. Then create a mosaic of with the best pixels of you. No sleepy eyes, weird smiles, bad hair, scrunched up face etc. This is what Google Timelapse does for the earth. A picture-perfect world with no clouds, haze, smoke, shadows etc. The cool thing is that Google has compiled this, plus more, datasets and allows users to create apps using varying sensors.
Embedded Google Timelapse Shenzhen, Guangdong, China
The ‘Experimental’ product – https://geteach.com/climateEarthEngine One of the datasets Google has made available via Earth Engine is TerraClimate, a monlthly climate database for terrestrial surfaces. http://www.climatologylab.org/terraclimate.html . The temporal range of this dataset is from January 1958 to ‘Present’. That is 60 years of climate data! While there are several data series (bands) in this dataset to map, I chose to map monthly mean max temperature and precipitation accumulation. Like geteach.com, the project got a bit out of hand.
First curiosity – How do you work this thing?
Second curiosity – Can there be a way to easily flip through 60 years of maps?
Short answer, yes…add a dropdown menu option.
Third curiosity – Can I add legends?
Fourth curiosity – Need an opacity slider…wonder if there is one built in because the Maps API can do it?
Fifth curiosity – Wouldn’t it be cool to add a line graph for monthly temperature and bar graph for precipitation for almost any land surface on Earth?
Hell Yes! Plus watch these!
Looking at charts and getting data (**No need to calculate scale anymore*)
A little math and spreadsheet lesson (*No need to calculate scale anymore*)
Sixth curiosity – It would be cool to compare strong El Nino and La Nina precipitation patterns. Therefore, they needed to be labeled in the dropdown menu.
Seventh curiosity – Now that I see these El Nino/La Nina patterns, there should be some elevation data too. Check….Thankfully, Earth Engine also has DEM data from the USGS.
Lastly, how to share? Earth Engine has a built in create/share app function. It uses Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Thankfully I use GCP for geteach.com, so setup was easy.
It took a couple, maybe four, days to learn and create.
As I always say, I code like a five-year-old, but here is 60 years of monthly
temperature and precipitation data. Plus elevation.
Challenges | Issues
1. Mashing together the Google Maps API with Google Charts is not easy. I wish I had more experience. For example, the temperature’s scale is 0.1 so the viewer must move the decimal over. Would prefer to calculate the math within the chart api. I am sure there is a way. I just don’t know it…yet. Figured it out!
2. When app is in an Iframe of a page the ‘greedy’ mouse
wheel zoom breaks. Therefore, users have to hold ‘ctrl’ wheel scroll to zoom in
3. The exported app is not smarty phone friendly.
4. Lastly, My grandfather used to always say how he, “was one stripped screw from be a mechanic.” My version is that I am one out of scope var from being a web designer. I ended up coding everything in notepad++ and copy/pasting into the code editor. Let’s just say my eyes are wiser than they used to be?
As teachers, we are always looking for ways to include all our diverse students into learning experiences. I cannot imagine my own children going to school not knowing the primary language of that culture; sitting there fighting to understand a concept through the media of strange sound symbols. (London #$%%&*!* is %#$%$#R^% down %#$%$#R^% down %#$%$#R^% down). My wife and I, like all teachers, work hard to bring a similar learning experience to all our deserving students. On occasion I’ll get a ping from a company telling us an order of a novel, written in a different language, will be delivered in the next day.
All that stated, Google Earth for Web is one resource you can use to include more of your students. Warning…this is a hack. Meaning that this works as of today, but who knows how long in the future.
Google Earth for the Web has been translated into many languages. In addition, some of Google’s Voyager stories have been translated into several languages. In general, Google identifies language settings on the user’s machine to feed that Google Earth language version. However, there is a url hack to open other language versions of Google Earth. Again, this works as of the day of this post, but not sure about the future. Anyways, the below urls will take you to that language version of Google Earth. The table also identifies which language version has some, not all, translated Voyager content. Even if Voyager content is not translated, exploring within Earth will have many translated points of interests (POIs). Below the table are a couple of videos showing how you might use this in the classroom.
Video using Voyager stories across languages
Video using Google Earth to explore across languages
In today’s context it is bit of a challenge writing a post about the authoritative bias of maps. After all, how can maps be both accurate and tendentious. Kuby, Harner, and Gober’s book Human Geography in Action (Amazon Link: http://a.co/2C1hF9s) attributes this authoritative bias to five critical decisions cartographer must make in creating and conveying visual information: maps projections, simplification, map scale, aggregation, and type of map. Below are a couple of ways Google’s Geo tools can be used to demonstrate these choices.
1. Maps Projection
As discussed in a previous post (link), Google Maps, Google’s Maps API, and Google’s My Maps uses a Mercator projection. Projections are chosen for a purpose; in this case probably navigation. The easiest way to demonstrate the impact of this choice simply draw the ring around Greenland in My Maps, or geteach.com, and drag the polygon to the equator. I normally show this in class then give the student 20 – 30 mins to draw and drag polygons. Students tend to want to know the size of Russia and like to drag the continent of Africa north towards the pole. Being from Texas, I often ask students to grab Alaska and bring it south over the continental US for a bit of humbling.
Kuby et al. like to use subway maps to demonstrate the idea of simplification and its benefit to the user. Below are London’s transit tubes on Google Maps and the other is London’s transit tube map. Explore and follow routes through London by zooming in/out and dragging the two maps below. Imagine if you where actually in London. Which map is more useful if you need to use this transit system? Which map is more accurate?
(Sorry, Google’s API only shows tube transit lines from this zoom level and closer)
The zoom level of a map corresponds with the detail of a map. Large scale map views a smaller area with more detail. Small scale maps view a large area with less detail. Which maps below gives you more detail of Texas’ Capitol?
Aggregation is the size of geographic units in visualized in the map. The video below shows how level of aggregation tells a different story for Pennsylvania’s 2016 election. The end of the story is the same but rescaling the data tells a richer story.
Kuby, Harner, and Gober’s book Human Geography in Action (Amazon Link: http://a.co/2C1hF9s) is much richer than this simple post. I highly recommend this text for anyone, or class, that wants to deepen their knowledge of geography. The intent of this post is to show the purposeful inaccuracy of maps and the importance of these inaccuracies. While maps, and many other forms of information, can be misleading, it is not always for nefarious reasons. At some point, the read/user has assess the value and limitations of their sources. The primary purpose of a map is often to transfer information more efficiently than a textual source. After all, as Harm De Blij wrote, “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a map is worth a million.” Try it yourself…describe the boundaries of all the countries in the world. Don’t forget the disputed ones. The choices made by cartographers give maps both value and limitations.
 Kuby, Michael, John Harner, and Patricia Gober. Human Geography in Action. 6th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2013.
One of the geography courses I am fortunate to teach uses a blended physical and human geography framework. The first several weeks of the year, the course entails why geography is important along with physical Earth observations and understandings. The first physical Earth lessons deal with landforms and the inner Earth/ outer Earth processes that form them. This June I converted many of the files from geteach.com to kml/Google Earth. Below are the maps sets used in class to visualize these Earth processes…+ a bonus Google Earth/kml file to help teach and/or review plate tectonics.
The pedagogical formula follows the working definition of geography taught to me from Brock Brown PhD.
“Geography is a perspective…the geographical perspective provides a broadly applicable interdisciplinary method of observing and analyzing anything distributed across Earth’s space.”
Starting questions: what, when, where?
Followed with: how and why?
Lastly: what if, what next, what about me, what about others, what should we do?