Southeastern Section - 63rd Annual Meeting (10–11 April 2014)

Paper No. 5
Presentation Time: 9:25 AM


DE PAOR, Declan G.1, RYAN, Jeffrey G.2, BAILEY, John E.3 and ROGERS, Nathan T.1, (1)Dept. of Physics, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA 23529, (2)Department of Geology, University of South Florida, 4202 East Fowler Avenue, SCA 528, Tampa, FL 33620-5201, (3)Google Inc, 1600 Amphitheatre Pkwy, Mountain View, CA 94043,

It is almost a decade since Google launched Google Maps and Google Earth. Both were initially designed as geospatial browsers. Geoscientists seeking to collect, map, and analyze spatial data have traditionally used geographic information systems such as ArcGIS. In 2007 and 2008 Google launched My Maps and Map Maker, respectively, two web services that crowd-source the process of making maps. However, only in 2013 with the launch of Google Maps Engine, has it become clear that Google envisages map making and analysis tools that will compete with GIS. Maps Engine has three versions—Lite, Pro, and Platform—and though only the Lite version is free for non-commercial use, there are grants available to academic users (note that ArcGIS is not free either). The Lite and Pro versions differ mainly in the number of layers and features that can be displayed and the former is probably adequate for most student instruction. Both versions allow users to draw styled placemarks, polylines, and polygons in layers that can be individually shown and hidden and manipulated in various ways.

Maps built in Maps Engine (Platform) can be imported into and viewed on Google Earth. A potentially revolutionary feature allows importation of a DEM file such as a terrain elevation geoTiff into a Maps Engine layer which replaces the Google Earth terrain model. This could allow users to model landscape evolution in 4D by creating paleo-DEMs in gDAL, for example, and thus sequentially changing topography with time.

A second new service, Google Earth Engine, allows users to upload and analyze global satellite imagery such as LandSat and MODIS. Editing access is currently limited to trusted testers but there are broad opportunities for students to explore. Users can build their own data analysis algorithms. An application to forest cover change was published in Science in Nov. 2013. There is potential to use Google’s virtually unlimited cloud computing capacity to present the results of federally funded Big Data projects in the geosciences.

Google Maps Engine and Google Earth Engine provide potential for authentic undergraduate research opportunities, meaning experiences that include the possibility of discovering publishable ideas. This has implications for building rich online geoscience courses.