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To catch a glimpse of endangered animals in the rainforest, watch the receding ice shelves of Antarctica, and then track an emerging disease across the globe used to require a passport, frequent-flyer miles, and a very good network of contacts. Not anymore. Google Earth, that zooming, spinning, fun-filled pack of global 3D maps and satellite imagery has made it easier for non-profits and public interest groups to use its technology and create interactive maps and applications to bring their causes to a 3D globe near you.

"You want to change the world. We want to help".

Google Earth Outreach, which was launched in June 2007, provides resources and guides on how to best utilize Google Earth's mapping tools and technology, many of which are free of charge for non-profit organizations and informational campaigns. Google Outreach provides a collection of step by step tutorials, a searchable showcase that highlights the most innovative applications of Google Earth mapping, a community message board, and a grants program for non-profit organizations where recipients can receive software grants and expert training on Google Earth applications for their organization.

Bringing Imagination to Life: Introduction to Google Earth Outreach:

The Google Earth mapping technology basically works by utilizing what they call "layers". These layers are like transparencies of information which can be created by anyone, and then overlaid onto the globe within the Google Earth application. After downloading the Google Earth application to a computer, a user can then pick the layers s/he is interested in viewing from the Google Earth website, Google Outreach Showcase, or from a creator-organization's website, and view them on his/her desktop. The layers can include almost any source of information, everything from traditional geographic markers, to pictures, videos, links, personal testimonies, time-lapse imagery, and even three-dimensional graphics. The creator of a layer can mix and match any of the above information, resulting in an interactive, 3D tour of the world; a guide which can be used to show, not just tell, stories and information about some of the biggest challenges facing our world today.

Climate Change in Google Earth

As one of the most pressing and perhaps difficult to detail challenges facing our world today, Google Earth mapping has become a major medium for advocates and scientists to share information regarding climate change.

From Google Earth's "Countdown to Copenhagen" website.

Exciting things are happening in Google Earth in relation to climate change awareness, adaptation strategies, and possible solutions. Google itself has launched a gallery of climate related videos, tutorials and other applications, all which utilize the latest Google Earth mapping technology.

Here are just a few of the many imaginative and exciting examples being created everyday:

Confronting Climate Change: with Al Gore

(view this tour in 3D in Google Earth)

Climate Action in California: A tour with Arnold Schwarzenegger

(view this tour in 3D in Google Earth)

The Last Mali Desert Elephants: Saving Elephants from Climate Change:

(view this tour in 3D in Google Earth)

Climate Change in Our World: Met Office
"Explore and learn about the impacts of climate change and find out how you can make a difference with Climate Change in our World". According to their Google Earth showcase page, the Met Office Hadley Centre, British Antarctic Survey and UK Government have created an interactive animation that shows how climate change and global temperature rises could affect the world over the next 100 years.
Click on the image above to access the Met webpage at Google Earth.
There you can download the KML file and open this layer in Google Earth.


The design and built-in flexibility of the Google Earth platform makes it an extremely useful tool for a variety of causes and organizations. Google maps and Google Earth can be embedded in websites or shared among a small, specified group of users through KML (Keyhole Markup Language) files, a coding scheme bought by Google (to learn more about KML coding and its uses, please see the "Resources" section below). With the advent of new applications, data can now be collected and distributed by mobile phones. Google has made enormous strides in the world of mapping applications, however, there are still some major drawbacks.

For the true power of Google Earth and maps to be experienced fully, one must have access to the newest technologies: computers with fast processors and lots of memory, high speed internet, an I-phone, etc. This means that Google Earth and Google Maps are best utilized in urban centers and developed countries. Many of the applications toward crisis mapping and climate change are necessarily geared toward less-advantaged populations and trying to help areas of the world that are the poorest and most likely to be affected by these crises. Google has understandably and perhaps wisely focused its outreach efforts on NGOs and other public interest organizations, which by their very nature are more likely to have access to disadvantaged populations and work in developing regions of the world, yet also have access to newer technologies and software that make it possible to use Google Earth. The Google Earth platform is a great advocacy and education tool, and has figured out how to enable NGOs and other interested parties in crowd sourcing information from around the world. Hopefully, as technologies continue to evolve, and become cheaper, Google will be able to transform its innovation into a product that can also be used to directly enable those populations which are most vulnerable.

Accessing and viewing projects done with Google Earth layers is relatively easy to figure out, and downloading Google Earth, if you have high-speed Internet and a fast computer, is a breeze. However, the creating layers in Google Earth requires a bit of a learning curve, and enabling others to use or see those layers outside of the Google Earth application (embedded on a webpage, for example) is tricky and at times downright frustrating. Google does provided a long list of resources on how to use Google Earth and Maps, but for the non-tech savvy individual, it might not be worth the effort to learn. A simpler interface and more efficient methods of sharing your layered data outside of the Google Earth application would be a huge improvement.

Climate Mapping Challenges:
When it comes specifically to mapping climate change, there are a number of pressing obstacles, which are not unique to the Google Earth platform. Whom to crowd-source from, how to screen the in-coming information and determine reliability, and how best to use the platform to share information in a way that impacts change are difficulties all climate mapping programs face, including those who choose to use Google Earth. Google Earth does have the advantage of "layers", which allow a user to congregate data from multiple sources and projects onto a single map in Google Earth by clicking on the layers which you want to view. However, thus far there is no "climate change" tab which would then show you all the mapped effects of climate change from various sources around the world. That kind of amalgamation of data could be useful, however, "ownership rights", conflicting reports, and cooperation between organizations collecting such data could pose overwhelming challenges.


Google Earth:
Google Earth Resources, 3rd Party Software, and Guides
Google Earth Outreach Showcase Projects
Understanding KML in Google

Official Google Earth Blog
LatLong Blog - News and Notes by the Google Earth and Mapping Team
Google GeoDevelopers Official Blog
Informative Blog about the latest developments in Google Earth - outside source
Ogle Earth Blog - covering all things Google Earth related
Google Earth Hacks
Google Maps Mania