Building a Google Earth Geology Layer

I submit to you that it’s high time Google Earth had a Geology Layer. And if Google isn’t going to create it themselves, I’m prepared to do what I can to help make this dream a reality.

The general idea for this has been kicking around in the back of my mind ever since I first grokked Google Earth – even more so since the advent of full fledged KML. The specific events that have crystallized my thinking most recently were a couple of tweets from Doc Searls, the recent Google KML in Research contest, and a comment on WoGE #155. I’ve been contemplating writing about this for over a month now, but Jess’ Using Google Earth to visualize volcanic and seismic activity post at Magma Cum Laude was just the spark I needed to pull this together. Jess highlights a couple of the geological elements of other layers, including some wonderful resources on earthquakes, volcanoes, and plate tectonics. There is certainly teaching value in all of these, though each could be improved and none really takes advantage of all of the newest capabilities of KML 2.2 and Google Earth 5.0.

When I was at the AGU Google Earth/GigaPan session this past December I had the opportunity to informally talk with a couple members of the Google Earth team. As much as the Google Earth team has done to develop themed Layers of high quality resources, I got the strong impression that they weren’t overly excited about initiating the process of developing new layers because it wasn’t clear that the existing layers are being used effectively (or at all) by a substantial portion of the user base. In fact, I got the sense that if one really wanted to create a new layer, Google would be much happier if these arose organically from the user base through the use of the extensive KML resources that are currently available for creating Google Earth applications.

The prospect of creating an Earth encompassing geology layer for the Earth might seem pretty daunting at first. In point of fact, it may be even more ambitious than the One Geology project‘s effort to create a 1:1000000 scale geologic map of the Earth, because to do a Google Earth layer right means illustrating the geology of our planet at a wide range of scales – from the planetary (by all means, let’s use the One Geology mapping for this level) down to the outcrop level (see some of my geologic GigaPans, for example) – and possibly beyond! Clearly this is no task that is going to be completed anytime soon, however, in some small ways the Geoblogosphere has already begun the task of annotating the geology of the planet. In Google Earth if you enter the search term “geology” in an area where a previous Where on (Google) Earth? challenge was located, the placemark(s) for any WoGE(s) in the viewing area should show up in the search results.

What I’d like to do here, with the help of the geoblogosphere (via the comments to this post, initially), is to set out some goals, examples, and use cases that could guide the development of a Google Earth geology layer. If there’s interest in building on this idea, I’d be happy to set up communications tools, create KML tutorials, or do anything else to facilitate a coordinated effort to develop such a layer. Hopefully, by leveraging the knowledge and efforts of the geoblogospheric community, along with excellent new resources for developing KML, we can make a real start toward building a useful geology resource.

For now, what I’d like to do is to begin to collect best practices/examples of good uses of KML in illustrating geology in Google Earth. I’ll start by pointing out the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program‘s collection of Google Earth KML files and another collection of geologic KML resources at San Diego State University. These should give you some idea of the sorts of things that will be possible. Also helpful would be use cases – how would you like to use a geology layer in Google Earth? Suggestions here will offer us guidance as to what the most important elements of a Google Earth geology layer should be.

Perhaps we can take a little time to develop this idea a little in tomorrow’s PodClast. Meanwhile, please don’t hesitate to add your suggestions or questions in the comments.

Stump Beach Cove

One last view of the northern California coast before we head south…


The light was fading and bad weather was moving in and it shows in the quality of the resulting GigaPan image. This stretch of coast deserves better GigaPanning, but it’ll have to wait for another trip…

Blueschist Knockers at the Mouth of the Russian River, Jenner, California

The mouth of the Russian River is a wonderful place. There’s a little something for everyone. Lots of wildlife to observe – seals, sea lions, gulls, pelicans, even the odd human being. And plenty of great geology, as well. There are river and shoreline processes for the sedimentologically inclined, and knockers of blueschist and eclogite for the hard rockers amongst us. Hang around here long enough and you might even feel an earthquake on the San Andreas fault which passes not far offshore.

The first GigaPan below is a sweeping panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean, mouth of the Russian River, and the town of Jenner, California nestled along the north bank, straddling the Pacific Coast Highway. The GigaPan is shot from Goat Rock State Park.

Pacific Coast, Mouth of the Russian River, Jenner, California
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The second GigaPan is shot from alongside the Pacific Coast Highway just north of Jenner from a pullout directly above the mouth of the Russian River. This one’s absolutely full of wildlife. You can also get a look at blueschist and eclogite knockers in their natural habitat. At the right side of this GigaPan you can make out my second GigaPan robot dutifully snapping a slightly more detailed view of the wildlife at the outlet of the Russian River.

Blueschist Knockers and Seastacks, Mouth of the Russian River
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The final GigaPan in this set is a GigaMacro image of a block of blueschist/eclogite from this locality that I keep in my office. (It’s previously been featured in my original Deskcrop post – from one of the Geoblogosphere’s original memes. Budding mineralogists will appreciate the wonderful RGB color scheme of this rock: Red = garnet, Green = omphacite, and Blue = glaucophane.

Franciscan Blueschist and Eclogite, Jenner, California
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Anyone else been to/through Jenner? Got any remembrances of the place from your own journey?

Search the Geoblogosphere

Google Custom Search
I’ve put together a Geoblogosphere Search Engine using Google’s Custom Search feature. So the next time you want to see who’s published about deskcrops, or thrust faults, or trilobites in the Geoblogosphere, now you know where to turn. Currently I’m indexing about 90 geoblogs that I follow regularly. If I left yours off I apologize. Let me know in the comments and I’ll add you as soon as I can.

Bolinas Lagoon

Bolinas Lagoon is a mudflat/tidal marsh located along the San Andreas fault zone just about twelve miles northwest of the Golden Gate in Marin County, California. The southern end of the Point Reyes peninsula lies west of the fault here and consists of Salinian granitoid rocks (mostly tonalite and granodiorite), derived from the southern Sierra Nevada/western Mojave Desert segment of the Cordilleran magmatic arc, and transported about 465 km northwestward my offset on the San Andreas and related faults. East of the fault and visible in some of the bluffs beside the Pacific Coast Highway are sedimentary rocks of the Franciscan subduction complex. The epicenter of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake was located only about 10 miles northwest of the camera location near Olema, California.


I wonder if I’d have any more luck starting a mudflat meme, seeing as the pillow fight doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. Probably not.

Update: Maybe I need to get back into a more scientific mindset and do a better literature search before I go spouting off about starting mud memes. I seem to lost track of the fact that both Kim and Silver Fox have preceded me in wading into the mud.

Here’s mud in your eye, ladies!


One of the outcrops I always look forward to revisiting when I get back to the Marin County area of California is the spectacular “Wall of Pillows” roadcut just downstream of Nicasio Reservoir along the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road and just uphill from Point Reyes Station. The roadcut is north-facing, so there’s really no good time of day to catch the sun on it. If you zoom in you can see my two field assistants, Edi and Berti, resting on some of the pillows.

More Pillows Than You Can Shake a Stick At
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The roadcut exposes a section of the upper oceanic crust scraped off the subducting Farallon Plate and incorporated into the Franciscan Subduction Complex. Pillow lavas such as these are diagnostic of fluid lavas (usually basaltic) that were extruded underwater, most commonly at the mid-ocean ridges. Although rarely witnessed, this type of volcanism is by far the most common form of extrusive igneous activity on Earth. The basaltic lava chills rapidly against the cold seawater and forms a glassy rind. The interior of each pillow subsequently inflates as more magma intrudes. This same type of texture can be observed in the photo below where 2.75 Ga pillows of the Wawa Greenstone belt are exposed near the Sir James open pit mine near Wawa, Ontario.

Archean Pillows near Wawa, Ontario, Canada

So how about it Geoblogosphere, have you seen any better pillows in your field areas? (I’m itching for a “pillow” fight!)

Where on (Google) Earth #162?

I loved winning the first Taiwanese WoGE locality because it offers me the opportunity to offer up a special Valentines Day WoGE.

Not only is this a fitting locality for the day, but it also qualifies as one of the entries on the Geologist’s 100 Places to Visit list. Needless to say, in identifying the locality (latitude and longitude will do the job there) I expect a lovingly crafted explanation of the geology of the feature at the heart of this challenge. As always, the winner gets a date with destiny, selecting the location of WoGE #163.

Where on (Google) Earth #162.

No Schott Rule, but I’d like to suggest that recent winners give it maybe six hours (Post time: 11:50am CST) so that the newbies have a chance to fall in love with WoGE.

Darwin/Lincoln Bicentennial

It seems somewhat remarkable to me that even here in the middle of Kansas I’ve probably seen and heard more media coverage in the last week of Darwin’s birthday than Lincoln’s. Perhaps that’s a fitting testament to the ongoing and profound impact of Mr. Darwin’s theory and its broader impact both within and beyond the field of science. And while I’m fully appreciative of Darwin’s contributions, I happen to have a more geologically interesting way of honoring Mr. Lincoln…


Happy Birthday to two giants of history!

GigaPan Opportunity for Geologists

Once again I have the opportunity to nominate a geologist or two to participate in the Fine Outreach for Science GigaPan Workshop this May 20-22 in Pittsburgh, PA. The goal of the workshop is to introduce scientists to the GigaPan technology. As one of the original pilot scientists, I will be participating in this workshop, offering training in the basic and advanced use of the unit and insights from my extensive work in developing geological applications of GigaPan imagery. At last year’s workshop in Estes Park, Colorado each of the new participants received a GigaPan unit and tripod as part of the Fine Outreach for Science program.

Testing out brand new GigaPan robots at last year’s FOFS Workshop in Big Thompson Canyon, Colorado
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If you’re interested and can make the workshop dates please let me know either in the comments below or by e-mail. Tell me a little about yourself and how you think you might use the GigaPan to do geologic research and/or teaching.

For extra credit: see if you can identify any of the geologists in this GigaPan.