Penn State NASA

Google Earth Tutorial


Google Earth

Google Earth is an incredible geospatial tool that can be used for a wide variety of educational and research purposes. This digital globe software is very easy to use. Individuals can download the software for free and can easily browse, carry out inquiry, create new knowledge and data, and can save and share information using KMZ data files, or you can easily output the content as image files for incorporation into presentations or reports. Google Earth is a great research tool and with it anyone can collect information. A wide-range of imagery including historical imagery contains a great deal of information about both natural and human landscapes around the Earth's surface. Street View functionality is also expanding in major cities and some rural areas and this adds an incredible array of 360° panoramic views as though the user were actually in place on the street. Built in features also provide terrain views to add to 3-D visualization. A whole range of additional tools (measuring tools, image overlay tools, video touring tools, and others) allow for both qualitative and quantitative analysis of landscapes through time. Google Earth layers offer additional geographic information sorted by thematic area, provide labels, political boundaries, and more. Google Earth is also searchable and allows you to fly to most any location by name or coordinates.

For all of these reasons, this software will be the principal tool that will be used in this course to help you develop critical geospatial skills.

Helpful Hints and Reminders
  • Make sure you are using a laptop or a deslktop computer, not a phone or an ipad or other type of tablet to intall Google Earth Pro.
  • Make sure you use Chrome to download files.
  • Make sure that you have downloaded the pro version of Google Earth.
  • Make sure that you are opening kmz files from WITHIN Google Earth. Do not CLICK on the files to open them. Instead, go into Google Earth, select File and click Open then open the downloaded file
  • If nothing works try rebooting your computer and relaunching Google Earth Pro

Download the Software

Go to the Google Earth website and download Google Earth Pro version suitable for your laptop. 

Install the Software

  1. Find and double-click the GoogleEarthComputerTypePro.dmg file. The file name will change a little depending what type of computer you have. 
  2. Next use the Google Earth Pro Installer that will be displayed to install the software. Start by clicking the icon that is displayed.
  3. Follow the instructions to complete the process. 

Tutorials and Resources from Google Earth

Note: There are a number of instructional elements on the Google Earth Help Center, so make sure you refer to the Help Center when necessary.

Google Earth Video Tutorial (20:27)

Click here for the video transcript.
In this tutorial, we're going to spend a little bit of time focusing on the tools within Google Earth. When you open Google Earth, you'll see this screen. A couple of the things that I want to point out to you are the header bars and tools that are available here. The first one you'll notice is the search bar at the top left-hand corner of the screen. Anytime, you can type in a location that you're interested to find. For instance, if you're interested in Adelaide, South Australia, you click on that and hit Search. Google Earth will zoom in to the location that you typed in. In this case, you can see we've zoomed in on Adelaide, South Australia. And you can continue to zoom in to see other features, and you can even type in street addresses and other locations. You can also use latitude and longitude here, as well, to find a location. What are some of the other tools? First off, you'll notice that down in the lower right-hand side of the screen, you’ll notice latitude and longitude and elevation of wherever your cursor is. So, as you zoom in to this coastline, and of course you can see in this particular view, as you zoom in, an ocean-going vessel underway, going up this particular river. But you can see that the latitude and longitude is shown, as well as the imagery date of the image. So, this image was from January 30th 2010. Okay. So, it's a lot of information that's available. In terms of navigating, up in the upper right hand corner, you can use the compass tool, or the GOI tool, and you can spin the view at any point, and you can choose the perspective. And you just have to play around with those tools to become more comfortable with them. You can use your mouse, if you have a roller ball, and you can zoom in and zoom out fairly simply. Or you can double click on features, and you can zoom in and out of those features. So, that's an interesting tool. So, here, you can see a beautiful mangrove system on these tidal creeks leading into this river system here going out into the ocean. Other tools. Okay, so up here at the top, you'll see the placemark tool. So, if you're interested in labeling a feature and you want to make sure that you are able to find that feature in the future, you can just identify that. You click on the placemark tool and while the dialog box is open, you can click on the placemark and you can move it to wherever you would like to on the screen, and you can name it. And you can also change the color. There's a number of different versions, so if you wanted the color code features, you certainly could do that. You can change the color of your pin. We'll change it to blue. And again, you can do any number of different things that are here. Okay, so that makes that pretty easy. So, notice now, when I change, it's in the green situation. You can change the labeling. So, the Adelaide, Australia, if you want to change that to a different color, you can do that. Notice now, I just changed it to yellow. And the icon, itself, you can change as well. You can change different colors that way. So, it's pretty simple. And notice, now that I close that, the pin location is here. In this case, it's in the temporary places folder. And this is really important, so what I would like you to do is add a folder here. Anytime you're working in Google Earth and you want to retain information, add a folder and you should name that according to your projects. A good way to do that is project module 1, for instance, if you were working on an assignment for module 1. And you can you can click OK and then, easily, once you have made your folder, you can move your placemarks into that folder. Now, the big thing, before you exit out of Google Earth, make sure you move that into your “my places” folder. That way, you will be able to save it by right clicking “Save place as” and you can save it to any location that you would like to save it to. You can navigate to your documents and you can in a place it there, so that's pretty simple. I'm not going to save mine at the moment, but we'll leave it there. So, that's the placemark tool. What are some of the other tools that you can find? Well, we have a “add a polygon” tool. So, for instance, if we wanted you to, or if you wanted to measure the area of a particular coastal feature or of a town. So, if we are here, for instance, you have a number of impoundments that have been clearly developed here as flood control structures. If we wanted to measure the area of those or we wanted to highlight those features, again, you click on the button and you can simply click and drag around the area. And you can be very precise with this, I'm just doing it very sort of cursory. And you can use your arrow keys to move if you have to. Now, notice, I didn't like the way those buttons, so I can hit the delete button rather than the return. Just hit the delete, and I can undo whatever it was that I had just pinned, and so there I have completed my polygon and I can, you know, name it whatever I would like to, Area One. And I could even add a description, so if I wanted to say this was an impoundment, you know we could do that. You could also add a link to a website if you found information out about it. Or you can add information, an image to your content description. Whatever you put in this description box, it will be there for you when you click on that feature. So, you see area one impoundment, everything is there. Now if you close out of a feature that you've already identified and you would like to go back in and modify it, it's really simple. You come over to your places box on the left hand side. You right click on there with your mouse and you come down to properties. So, at any time you can come back in here and you can add or edit any information. So, I want to change my line color, maybe I want to change my fill color. Now, what if I wanted to actually see this in a little bit of a transparency. So, what you can do is here in the opacity, we can take that down to say 20 percent, or we can take it down to 30 percent, whatever you would like to do. The same goes with the opacity of the line color that you run around the outside perimeter. Whichever you do, you're just going to need to hit okay, and it's easy for you to go back to those points. Now notice, I'm now navigated away from the very first point that I had done. And if I want to go back to that at any point, I can just click on that location on that point and it will zoom me back to the location I was at when I placed that pin. Let's just try for another. Let’s go for Beijing China. We'll see what we can find out about Beijing and then we'll use another tool there. So, notice, I'm flying or navigating to Beijing. And you can see that Beijing is located sort of to the west of the ocean, but it's a fairly large city. So, let’s sort of zoom in on some of the coastal features here just a little, and you'll notice that we have a very large port area. So, for instance, if we wanted to measure the distance between Beijing, and we’ll go ahead and we’ll do a ruler tool here. The first thing I want to do is I'm going to put a placemark, and we'll put it down here, just so that it’s a reference. And we’ll just say “nearest port to Beijing”, and we hit okay. And now if I wanted to measure the distance, how am I going to measure that distance? Now I can click up here on the ruler tool and I have a couple of different options that I can follow here. First of all, I can use the line tool and I can just simply click. And now this is in meters or I can switch it to kilometers or I can switch it to miles, whatever units you would like. When you're doing long distances it is wise for you to use, obviously a larger scale, for instance kilometers. So, in this particular case, you'll notice that the distance from my Beijing City Center to the nearest port, as the crow would fly, is 157 kilometers. And that's also at a heading of a hundred and thirty degrees. So, in other words, this is north, as we all know is a zero degree reading on a compass. So, if I were to go from Beijing China to the port, I would be going to South East at a bearing of a hundred and thirty degrees, to get from Beijing to that port. Okay now another thing that you can do, instead of just doing a simple straight line as the crow would fly, you might want to know the path. So, for instance, if you wanted to follow a road or a river. So, here, you can see one of the rivers. It's very simple for you. You can click on the image and again here I'm going to use my arrow keys to trace out the river system. So, I'm going to continue to do that. As I follow this river I’m going to arrow over. For a boat to make it to Beijing from the port city, rather than going by airplane or as a crow would fly. Notice here that that path that I chose, it is a very rough path, it's not precise. You can be certainly much more careful with your clicking. It's roughly 200 kilometers to travel that distance. At any time, you can always hit clear and you can go back. Now if you want to upgrade to Google Earth Pro you can also do lots of areas and perimeters and other kinds of things, which are very interesting, as you develop your abilities. Pretty neat tool to do here. So, when you're ready to close that, go ahead and click OK. So, we've covered the “add a placemark” tool and the “polygon tool” and let's talk a little bit about a line or a path. So, just as I did before, this is a way for us to actually label a path that’s on this stream, or on your Google Earth, so I'm just going to go ahead and I'm gonna click a path that I might want to follow, not necessarily you know, a perfect one. But so there's a path, and if I wanted to say this was a transportation route for instance, I could do that. And add any kind of a description in here. So, there it is and notice it's still in the projects bar, module one at any time that I'm interested to go back to a site. So, what if I wanted to go back to Adelaide? Again, I could just click on Adelaide and I can fly all the way back down there. Okay, so that's pretty simple. And as I zoom in, again you can see the polygons, that was my impoundment, and here's, of course, Adelaide itself. All right, so, the only other tool that I was going to point out at this point, well there are two more tools that I want to point out. One of them is what's called the “add an image overlay” tool. If there was a map or other image that you would like to add, you would click on that new image overlay and you would browse for that map and you could insert it. And once it's inserted you can rotate the map to align it with your geology or you can drag the corners and make it smaller or larger. Ok, again you can shift the center of it around. So, there's a lot of neat things that you can do with this tool and this is really, in a GIS environment, what is called georeferencing. So, you can take any map, any image that you would have as a JPEG or a PNG file and insert it in here, and you can align it to the map. And if you want to be able to see through your map, to be able to register it, sometimes it's really useful to use the opacity or transparency function to be able to see it as well. So, I'm not going to have finished this one because obviously I haven't selected a map but that's something that you could do easily enough. The last tool what I want to point out to you in terms of you know workable tools that are useful for you, one of them is right here. It's called the record a tool and this will allow you to make interesting video captures of features that you want to see. And so, a little dialog box that opens on the screen, you can notice that there's a microphone and that there is a record button. So, anything that you do from the point that you click on that button you will be able to record. So, at this point, I'm going to zoom into area one, and you'll notice that down here it's clicking off so it's recording everything that I'm doing. And if I wanted to zoom in on another area, okay, I could click on that area or  on that feature, and as you zoom in, it’s recording your activity. So, as we zoom in here you can see that this is probably a river channel, that's obviously covered in a lot of trees and it's probably a freshwater system or at least mostly freshwater, that it clearly must have some saltwater influence on it, so it may even have some tidal component to it. But that's beside the point of this at this point in time. So, I will go ahead and hit stop, and immediately my video will start playing and I have the option of watching that video to see if it's if it's exactly what I want. And if it's what I like, and I'm happy with the video, I can hit the save the video and save it to your places and it will always be a video that you can share with anybody easily enough. So, I can hit share and I can call that one a quick tour of Adelaide. So, I’ll hit save, and notice it also comes into my and to my folder for my project. As long as that's where I've been working, that's where it will be. And when I'm ready to finish this project, it's very easy for me to go here and hit "save place as" and I can save it to any folder I want to save it to. Okay, so there I have my tool, I have the tools, and that would be the important part one. Oh, one more item that I meant to mention here. The historical imagery tool. So, we will zoom back out for a minute and if I'm interested to see how this landscape might be changing, I can certainly turn on a historical imagery tool. You'll notice that up pops this little box, and if you look closely here, there are several images that are posted here. I can go back in time to, in this case this is March 17, 2005 January 15, 2004, April 25th, 2003. Now, not all images are perfect for all areas, because, of course, depends on the quality of the imagery that was taken at that time, but if we wanted to zoom in and see some of the changes that do take place. Okay, you can see there are some referencing images issues here, so sometimes it may not be the best. For some regions, you'll get very excellent data. So, again, that historical imagery tool and you can turn it back off if you don't want to see it. Alright, so there's a very quick set of instructions showing you what's going on in Google Earth and how to use some of the tools. And there are certainly a number of other ones that are available to you online via the Google Earth website itself. So, that will help you, hopefully, this will help you. If you have any questions on Google Earth, feel free to ask your instructors.