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.

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