2008-10-23: Google Earth and Science Applications, Ann Arbor

From Federation of Earth Science Information Partners

The purpose of this meeting is to explore scientific investigations that are enabled by global-scale reach and interactivity provided by Google Earth. The meeting was the first of it's kind and depending on the connections and collaborations that come from this meeting, as well as resulting KMLs there may be more.

Technically, the KMLs produced by the AQ Cluster/DataFed are pushing the Google Earth/KML technology for how they are generated and the ability to encode point and image layers as kmls. However, a few key newer features are worth mentioning:

  1. Google Earth API for the browser. It allows users to view kml in their regular browser instead of having to install desktop GE application. It also enables javascript (i.e. programmed fly through, analysis tools built on top, etc). This could be plugged into a data viewer for a more interactive experience.
  2. Google Charts/Google Earth Combination. Simplest addition would be a timechart or other dimension (elevation)? shown in the pop-up bubble. Examples are shown with pie charts, but seems like other types of google charts could work. In GE browser, could not click on timeseries to change spatial layout. However, in Internet Explorer with plugin and Javascript, you could probably link the timeseries to update the spatial google earth layer.
  3. Collada Models - another way to create point symbols or possibly uneven layer using Sketchup (Blog post). Don't know if there is a use for this, but it extends capabilities of google earth, perhaps better points. Example doesn't allow you to click for more information about a point.
  4. Ability to share layers -
    1. Connections with Googler Outreach - Sean Askay, particularly interested in ESIP AQ Cluster layer
    2. KML Contest
    3. Submit KML layer to GE Gallery

Oct. 22

The first two talks gave an overview on the state of geoscience and technology.

  • Tim Killeen, from NSF, gave the geoscience perspective. He explained that less than 10% of all data they had was ever viewed and a system is needed for people to view this data in a simple environment. The two highlights to take away is that "data to knowledge" is key and "big uncertainties remain" wrt climate and understanding. He did however touch on new projects such as the NSF Ocean Observatories Inititiave , the final design of which is due in December
    • One commenter noted that GEOSS was notably missing. Killeen's response was that any of the NSF work could be considered part of GEOSS.
  • Dan Atkins, former VP of Cyberinfrastructure and now at U. Mich. gave the second talk on the "Role of Data in the National Science Foundation Cyberinfrastructure for 21st Century Discovery". He pressed the need for data stewardship, curation, federation and openness. He also described the push/pull nature between technology and complex environmental problems. He stated that providing information a geographical-based entry to data is natural and compelling as we all have an inherent geographical frame of reference.

The second half of the morning was focused on using google earth

  • Michael Weiss-Malik,KML Product Manager, Why is KML important?
    • He explained the design of Google Earth and the need for it. To use the analogy "to most users, the interface is the computer" he pointed out that with any paper we read the figure is the thing one remembers most and so the philosophy "to most viewers the presentation is the data". Something definitely worth remembering. KML is a standardised format derived from XML that encodes the Google Earth files.
  • Sean Askay, Google Earth Applications
    • Darfur Example
    • WV, Mountaintop removal.
  • Trey Smith, NASA AMES disaster response application
    • Introduced GigaPan - panoramic images around the world that are sometimes linked to GE

The afternoon session in the pollution and weather group resulted in a collection of KML layers and sites from people in the group. Pete Giencke, a googler in our session, works on Google Earth Weather and listened/tried to solve some of the issues people have with GE as is. Common Issues were:

  • Needing underground/underwater layers
  • Animation/time line issues
  • Layer ordering for transparency
  • Ideas about using Sketchup with GE

ESIP AQ Cluster Poster

AQ Cluster Poster
Abstract: The Federation of Earth Science Information Partners is a unique consortium of more than 90 organizations that collect, interpret and develop applications for Earth observation information. Included in the ESIP network are NASA, NOAA and USGS data centers, research universities, government research laboratories, supercomputing facilities, education resource providers, information technology innovators, nonprofit organizations and commercial enterprises.

The overarching objective of the ESIP Air Quality (AQ) Cluster is to connect air quality data consumers with the providers of those data. The AQ Cluster has facilitated the flow of earth science data to air quality management by creating kmzs that incorporate relevant data for a particular air pollution event and then augmenting the kmz with a screencast explaining the event and included layers. The Cluster has also used Google Earth as an entry point for access to metadata about air quality datasets. This poster will include most recent uses of Google Earth through satellite NO2 exploration and the Georgia Smoke Event of 2007.


Oct. 23

We started in our pollution/weather wg with three questions:

Q1. What are good examples of visualizations in your topical area that are currently available and what makes them good?

See spreadsheet

Q2. What are the challenges that are being identified in your discussion that are making it more difficult to generate more GE/KML content?

  • Creation of polygon(?) surfaces
  • Links on left panel
  • Interface
    • User's can't reorder layers
  • Timeline
    • Author cannot control speed of timeline
    • User limited on speed controls
  • New Features
    • Surfaces above surface

Q3. What are some of the best ideas for future work or collaborations that came out of the group discussions?

  • Weather Display in Google Earth
    • Representation of pressure surfaces
    • Representation of radar/precip (perhaps include volume composite from radar)
  • Below surface representations
    • Water characteristics
    • Well measurements
  • Space/Time navigation
    • Move with pollution plumes

We also went to an advanced tutorial. [More notes coming]

The afternoon of the last session was a report back from all of the groups on the set of questions above.

The conference ended with a panel of googlers:

  • Blurry earth images come from provider - Google doesn't touch/censor on pixel by pixel basis. Google does choose to not update imagery in areas of conflict. Can view Digital Globe layers under "more layers" in GE to see available globe imagery.
  • WMS to KML not as prominent because WMS is hard on the server and they had several servers crash when WMS feature was added.
  • Google Gears can create GeoRSS reader and convert to KML for GE API plugin
  • Introduced Google Application Engine
  • Google Research Datasets is coming


KML in Research Competition - Submit your KML and winners will be featured in the GE Gallery as well as at the Google Earth display at AGU. Prizes include GPS unit and Apple Ipod Touch


One action item that came out of this meeting is to prepare a KML with NASA/NOAA/EPA AQ layers for a potential permanent layer in GE app.

Google Earth Resources