Google Earth Manual

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Traditional Aboriginal Knowledge

Google Earth Manual
Designing and Creating Earth Science Lessons with Google Earth

Used with permission by Earth Science Australia
Steve Kluge
- Fox Lane HS, Bedford, NY and Purchase College, SUNY, Purchase, NY
Drew Patrick - Fox Lane HS, Bedford, NY
Eric Fermann - Eastchester HS, Eastchester, NY

Planning a Lesson
What Can I Do With GE? 
What Can I Include in a GE Lesson? 
Organising your lesson 
Planning Tool (MSWord .doc file)-external link
Creating a Google EarthTM Lesson
Creating Folders and Placemarks and Saving them
Images and Hyperlinks in Placemarks
Useful Tools 
Image Processing 
Text Editing
Image Hosting
Using Google EarthTM
Downloading and
Installing GE
  Controls and Navigation 
View Menu Options 
Tools Menu Options

Planning a Lesson

What Can I Do With Google EarthTM?
Since its release in the summer of 2005, Google EarthTM has provided an uncomplicated means of combining aerial imagery with geologic and geographic information in dramatic fashion. The 3D rendering of surface features of the earth can be manipulated easily and incorporated into the Earth Science classroom in a variety of ways. Without a doubt, Google EarthTM visualizations grab students' attention. It's the thoughtful teacher's job to integrate these visualizations into lessons that include important content and inquiry-based learning activities.

When you design a classroom lesson around the Google EarthTM program, your students will see the earth from a new perspective. The scale of the Earth, and features that are created or responsible for many of the important earth science processes are often too large and too complex to see easily as a sketch, a drawing on the board, a stationary photograph, or even on a real-life field trip. The aerial imagery in GE can provide a realistic and appropriately scaled representation of the Earth.

There are at least three unique ways that Google EarthTM can be used in a classroom setting:
  1. As a demonstration tool: Tours can be developed that will allow students to 'fly' from one location to the next with a brief pause at each stop. During a tour, students will have the chance to view locations that have been identified and connected by the instructor as geologically or geographically important. Different layers supplied with the program (earthquakes, volcanoes, etc) can be activated to illustrate key points along with an oral narration for each stop.
  2. As a supplement to previously established lab activities: By including a Google EarthTM tour with an established activity, students will be able to draw greater connections between their activity and the Earth. For example, students may construct a river profile manually to understand how the idealized profile shape of a river is interrupted by nick-points such as waterfalls and dams. A tour from the mouth to the head and back to the mouth along the same river will help students recognize what they did with graph paper and pencil actually represents a real location with real waterfalls and dams.
  3. As a stand alone, technology-driven activity: Careful construction of tours with questions embedded directly into the placemarks will allow students to take a true 'virtual fieldtrip' from one location to the next, consider the geography of the location in context with additional material (descriptions, photographs, hyperlinks, etc). Because Google EarthTM files are usually relatively small, they are easy to store on internet servers for students to download and work on their own.
Some suggested topics are presented in the table below:

Topic Example
Landscape regions of NYS See the Giant Peak Sample Tour and the DLESE NY Landscape Tours website for examples.
Topographic mapping By applying a topographic map overlay and manipulating the orientation of the landscape, the relation between contour lines and landscape features becomes obvious.
Igneous processes such a volcanoes and flows Slope angles for various volcano types can be calculated
Fluvial processes Meandering streams and oxbow lake formation along the Mississippi; erosion and deposition
Glacial vs. stream valley U-shaped valleys and deep v-shaped valleys
Glacial landforms ArĂȘtes, horns, etc; lateral, medial, end, and terminal moraine deposits
Shoreline processes Wave refraction; long-shore drift
Meteorite impact craters Relating crater diameter to the diameter of the impacting bolide.
Plate tectonics Earthquake and volcano locations can be activated to show concentrations near plate boundaries; mid-ocean ridges and trenches are visible, distance of volcanoes and volcanic islands from trenches can be calculated.
Structural geology Especially when used in association with a geologic map overlay, anticlines, synclines, and dipping structures can be seen.
Time of day and angle of insolation Shadows from tall objects such as buildings can help students identify the sun location and the time of day.

What Can I
Include in a GE Lesson?
There is a continuum of features that can be included in your GE lesson, depending on your objectives. The list that follows provides an overview of these features. Once you have identified the objectives of your inquiry, you can begin to select which features best suit your needs. Examples of each feature can be viewed by navigating to the
Giant Peak Sample Tour and the DLESE NY Landscape Regions website.

Placemarks Hyperlinks Images Overlays Lesson Files

Placemarks. A placemark is the most basic GE tool, and it is used to identify a particular location, landscape or geologic feature, or point of interest. Placemarks should be included whenever you need to provide specific information- a description, question, image, link or instructions.

Hyperlinks. Hyperlinks can be included in the pop-up window associated with each placemark. Hyperlinks enable the user to navigate to a web site that may contain additional information and details related to your objective, or may point the user in a whole new direction of inquiry.

Images. Images add tremendous value to a placemark. Images can become the basis for a specific question (see example left), or can illustrate a feature described in the placemark.

Overlays. Overlays are a "value-added" component of GE. Overlays can include images, maps, or diagrams that correspond to a geographic feature or location on Earth. Once included, an overlay can appear with varying degrees of transparency, and represent an added "layer" of information, much like a GIS system.

Lesson Files. Handouts, instructions, directions, and worksheets can be embedded as hyperlinks into placemarks. These support materials add tremendous value to your GE tour, and serve as a clear way to know if students are meeting the objectives of the lesson. As with any hyperlink, these materials can be in a variety of document formats.

Deciding on a lesson topic
The lesson you choose will depend on the objectives you set forth. Start by visiting the ideas/uses listed earlier in this section, and by carefully considering the following questions:

  1. What will students need to know to get started? (Think both in terms of content and using the technology)
  2. How much time will be devoted to this lesson? Can you access the computer lab for that length of time?
  3. What will the student outcome or product look like? Is your purpose to stimulate discussion, or should there be a written product?
Perhaps the most important question is the last one. If you are unclear of your purpose, you are likely to open GE, zoom around, and get frustrated. If you have successfully answered these questions, you will be ready to begin making some specific decisions.

Organising Your Lesson
As with all good field trips, careful planning is necessary, and the virtual Google EarthTM tour is no different. When developing a lesson in Google EarthTM, consider developing a list (mentally or written) of the desired locations for the tour placemarks, and imagine that students will eventually use the tour of placemarks as a virtual field trip. This field trip will include several stops that have some geologic/geographic significance.

Planning Your Lesson
Think, too, about how and where you want to link your classroom lesson into your GE tour. It might consist of an activity at each stop with instructions to students embedded right in the placemark. Or, the lesson may be a Word or .pdf document linked from the placemark, as is the case in the sample Giant Peak tour (See the
Image and File Hosting section below).
You will find this planning tool (external link) helpful as you organize your thoughts and materials. Once you complete your planning, you are ready to move into GE and start building your tour!

Creating a Google EarthTM Lesson

Creating and Saving Folders and Placemarks

Creating a Folder
A Google EarthTM tour with more than one stop should be created in its own folder in "My Places". Making a new folder in the Places frame involves 3 simple steps:
1. Navigate to the place you want your audience to see when they open the folder. Adjust the zoom and tilt to suit your liking/needs.

2. Click on "My Places" in the places frame to select that destination for the new folder.

3. From the toolbar, click "Add" and then "Folder" as indicated above. The "New" folder dialog box will open as shown to the right above. Type in a name for your folder. Then type in a description of the contents of the folder. The image above is a screen shot of the folder that contains the sample tour and lesson that accompanies this manual. Generally, you will want the "Allow this folder to be expanded" box checked, and the "Show contents as options" box unchecked. When you press "OK", the folder will be created and saved in "My Places". See also
Moving Folders and Editing Folders

Creating a Placemark
Individual placemarks can be added to the folder you've just created. The steps for creating a placemark are similar to those required to make a folder:
1. Navigate to the exact view you want your audience to see when they view the placemark.
2. In the Places frame, click on the folder you want to create your placemark in.
3. From the toolbar, click "Add" and then "Placemark" as indicated in the figure to the right.

4. In the dialog box that opens, type in the name and description of your placemark (this is the text that will appear when your placemark is displayed in GE). The image to the left was made as the "Glacial Landforms in the Adirondacks" placemark was made.
The default placemark icon is , and it is easily changed by clicking the icon in the New placemark dialog box. For the Giant Mountain folder, we've chosen the icon.
Once you've selected an alternate icon, all subsequent placemarks will default to the alternate.
The Latitude, Longitude, and View are all set automatically to match the display you set as you began to make your placemark.
You can play with the Style,Color and Altitude settings, but the defaults will work fine.See also
Moving Placemarks and
Editing Placemarks

Ordering Placemarks in a Tour
When creating and adding placemarks to a tour folder, each successive placemark will be added to the top of selected folder in the Places frame.
Tours play in order from the top down. Creating placemarks in your folder in a logical sequence will create a 'backwards' tour (i.e. the first location created will be the last 'stop' on the tour).
Tour placemarks can be rearranged by clicking and dragging each stop into its appropriate position in the tour list (See also Moving Placemarks).
One suggestion to aid with the re-arrangement of the tour is to number the stops sequentially. When re-ordering the placemarks, 'stop' number 1 should be at the top of the tour folder, and stops should continue in numerical order. Notice that a number of the stops in the sample Giant Peak tour are numbered. Remember, placemarks can be edited at any time

Saving and Sharing Folders and Placemarks
Once you have created folders and placemarks in my Places, GE will save them there. But if you want to bring your GE tours to another computer, send them to a friend, or post post them to the web, you will have to save them as separate .kml or .kmz files.
To save a folder or placemark, simply right click the folder/placemark you wish to save, and select "save as" as indicated in the image to the right.
Select or create and select a folder on your hard drive to hold your GE files. You can save your files in either .kml (Keyhole Markup Language file) or .kmz (Keyhole Markup Zip file)format. It makes sense to save folders containing several placemarks as .kmz files.
When you click a .kml or .kmz file in My Computer, it will automatically open with Google EarthTM

Images and Hyperlinks in Placemarks

Putting images and hyperlinks neatly into placemarks requires the knowledge of just a little HTML. But don't worry, it's not that hard, and what you need to know is very limited. In this section, you'll learn the basic HTML tags you'll use, and if all else fails, how to "steal" the necessary code from existing placemark descriptions.

The image and information link in the placemark below were found through a simple Google search for "Giant of the Valley". Using a few HTML tags, it was easy to display the image and link to the site within the placemark description. The "How To" follows

All instructions, or tags, in HTML are enclosed by < and > brackets. For instance, typing <CENTER> into a placemark description will center all the content - images and text - that follows. A particular instruction can be turned off by placing / within the < and > brackets, before the instruction. </CENTER> will turn off centering, and all content that follows will default to the left margin. The table to the left below contains all the HTML you need to make a good looking and functional placemark.

In this table the HTML is black, and annotations are in red. Google EarthTM supports other HTML in descriptions, too. If you know a little HTML, you can change fonts and create tables to display images and/or text side by side, but that is beyond the scope of this manual.

The image below, also annotated in red, is the description that produced the "View from the Summit" placemark in the accompanying GE tour

If All Else Fails
(Or even if it doesn't) you can find a placemark in an existing lesson or tour that you like the appearance of. Right click it in the Places frame, and select Properties. Copy the Description to your new placemark, and replace URLs and text while keeping the HTML intact. (See
Editing Descriptions, too)

Re-sizing Images from the Internet
You're quite likely to want to include images you've found on the internet, but the image size may be too large to fit your placemark they way you's like. The remedy is quite simple, and just involves adding width and height specifications to the <IMG SRC=" "> tag. Follow these steps to resize an image in your placemark:
  1. Right click the image you're interested in and select "properties". Jot down the image size on a piece of scrap paper.
  2. Multiply both the width and height measurements by the same reduction factor (0.5 will produce an image 1/4 the size of the original), and jot down those new dimensions.
  3. Edit your <IMG SRC=" "> tag by adding width and height specs as follows:
    <IMG SRC=" " WIDTH="your calculated width" HEIGHT="your calculated height">
To reduce an image whose original size is 900 by 387 pixels, for instance,use this IMG SRC tag:
<IMG SRC="" WIDTH="450" HEIGHT="193">

Using Your Own Images
Rather than linking to someone else's images, you may want to use your own. While images that you own can be attached to a .kmz file, the image will greatly increase the size of the file and increase file download times as well. Furthermore, we have experienced some trouble getting images to reliably travel with a GE file. For those reasons, we recommend hosting your images at one of the sites listed in the Image Hosting section of this manual. Instructions for uploading your images are at those sites, and generally you will have to open a free account to do so. Once your picture is up on the host site, you can retrieve its URL by right clicking the image and selecting "properties". You can cut the URL from the properties window that opens and paste it between the " " in the <IMG SRC=" "> tag in your placemark description.

It is quite likely, however, that your images will be the wrong size to fit your placemark. You can resize the images right in your placemark (see the resize section above). Alternatively, you can download and install Easy Thumbs, a free and easy to use image resizing and editing tool (other options are listed in the Imaging Processing section of this manual).

Generally, images will need to be no larger than 450 pixels wide or high, and since they will be viewed on screen, jpg quality can be set to 70% with no significant degradation of appearance

Adding Map Overlays to your Google EarthTM Tour

One of the most dramatic things you can do with Google EarthTM is to drape a map over the three dimensional landscape display. In order to do this, you need a digital image of a map of the area you wish to overlay. There are several sources of such maps:,, USGS, and scanned paper maps. We've found the maps at
MapTech's free map server to be of high quality at various zoom levels and sized right for GE overlays. Once you've located the map you want at the scale you want, right click the map and save it to your hard drive with an appropriate name

The Giant Peak overlay map in the screen shot to the left was saved from the MapTech site as "giantmap.jpg"

You can view giantmap.jpg on Fox Lane's server here.

Once you've saved your map, upload it to your image hosting site (see the section on Images above for information on hosting images). Right click the map image at your hosting site, view properties, and note/copy the URL of your map image. You will need the URL when you create your overlay.

Adding an Overlay to the Display
First, make the following adjustments in the Layers frame: turn on "Roads" and turn off "Terrain". You may want to turn off everything else as well.

On the dispay, Use the navigation controls to set North to the top of the display, and adjust the view so that your are looking directly down on the center of the area where your map will drape over the landscape. Make sure the display area is a little larger than the area your map will cover.

Click on the folder you created in "My Places" to select the destination for the overlay.

From the toolbar, click "Add" and then "Image Overlay" as indicated to the right. A green square will appear on the display, and the "New" image overlay dialog box will open as shown below.

Type in a name for your overlay in the New overlay dialog box. Then enter the URL of the map you want to overlay. Google EarthTM will fetch the map, and place it in the green square on the display.
Finally, adjust the Transparency slider to the middle of the scale
Adjusting Your Map Overlay

It's unlikely that your map ended up exactly where it should be. Use your mouse on the green guides to re-center, stretch, shrink, rotate, and otherwise prod the map into position.

Use roads and bodies of water, and any other landmarks that appear on both map and GE display to align the map properly.

You can slide the Transparency: control back and forth to check the "fit" of your overlay too.

The first few times you do this, you're likely to be a little frustrated. Don't worry, it gets easier.

When you're done, click "Okay" and Google EarthTM will save your properly positioned map to your folder in My Places.
Editing Overlays

Useful Tools

Image Processing
Easy Thumbs is a free utility that allows you to quickly and easily adjust the size and quality of photos.
MS Paint is an image processing program that comes with Windows. You can do basic image processing in Paint - resizing, cropping. If you can't find an MS Paint icon on your machine, click Start > Search and type MS Paint in the search dialog box.
iPhoto is the image processing program on the Mac platform.
ImageJ is a free, Java based image processing program created by Wayne Rasband at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. You can find more information about ImageJ here. If you've never done any image processing, it will take you some time to learn to use the various tools.
MWSnap is a handy freeware program that will allow you to capture any part of your screen and save it as an image file.

Text Editing
NoteTab Light is a handy, free, text editing program with built in html creating and editing functions from Fookes software.

Image and File Hosting
There are several free places to host your images on line. The following are well known and widely used sites:
Koday Gallery
Yahoo Photos

Using Images Hosted at Yahoo Photos

The following section describes how to use images hosted at Yahoo Photos. Other image hosting sites will work in much the same way.

First, go to Yahoo Photos and either create a new account or log onto your existing account. Follow the instructions there to create an "album" to hold your GE images, and upload your photos to that album. Then click the album to view it, and click the thumbnail of the image you wish to use in your GE placemark or overlay. A full size image will display to the right of your album list.

You can right click ON THE IMAGE to get its URL. The images below show you how to do it in Internet Explorer and Firefox.

...In Internet Explorer

Right click the image and select "Properties". Select and copy the image URL from the window that opens.

...In Firefox

Right click the image and select "Copy Image Location". You can then paste the image URL into your placemark or overlay description.
There are also sites that will host your .doc files. File Den will keep your files indefinitely, and you can link directly to them from your Google EarthTM placemarks. For a list and reviews of other image and file sharing sharing, visit Free WebHosts.

Appendix: Using Google EarthTM

Downloading and Installing Google EarthTM
Google EarthTM can be downloaded from the internet site: There are free and paid versions. The paid versions provide the user with more features and function, including the ability to upload GPS data directly into the program. This manual will focus on the features that are included and can be used with the free version. At this writing, Google EarthTM Version 4 (Beta) is available. If you have an older version, you may want to upgrade as this manual is written for version 4.

To install the program, visit the web address above and follow their directions

Controls and Navigation
The screen you'll see when you open Google EarthTM appears below. Various aspects of the program have been highlighted and briefly explained

When you mouse over the navigation area on the upper right of the display, the navigation controls expand, as illustrated to the left. Experiment with the controls to navigate around the display. You can also navigate using your mouse buttons (see below) and/or your keyboard

Mouse (PC with a wheel) Controls

Function Mouse Control
Move the view up/down and right/left Hold left button, move mouse up/down, right/left
Zoom in Hold right button, move mouse down
Zoom out Hold right button, move mouse up
View at a more direct angle Hold wheel/middle button, move mouse up
View at a less direct angle Hold wheel/middle button, move mouse down
Rotate view clockwise Hold wheel/middle button, move mouse right across the top of the screen
Rotate view counterclockwise Hold wheel/middle button, move mouse left across the bottom of the screen

The View Menu Options

You can add or remove features from the display with the View menu. The Compass will help you orient yourself as you fly around the display. The Status Bar contains lat/long and elevation information. The Scale Legend provides a handy map scale in the corner of the display. The other options may be useful from time to time. Experiment with them!

Tools Menu Options

Having both the Toolbar and Sidebar active will make working with Google EarthTM more efficient. Several other Options are discussed below. You will find that adjusting those options will be necessary from time to time. Clicking Options... will open the window below:

In the 3D View tab you can set the display to lat/long or UTM and select english or metric units. The most frequently adjusted setting, however, will be the elevation exaggeration. Use a setting of 3 when viewing areas of low local relief, and a lower setting in mountainous regions.

In the Cache tab, you can adjust the memory and disk cache sizes that Google EarthTM creates. If you notice that the program is slowing down, try clearing the memory cache.

In the Touring tab you can make adjustments to the tours that you will be creating. Look the options over, but the default setting will work fine for now. If you find later on that your tour flies too fast or slow, come back here to make adjustments