Google Earth Gets Oceans, Time

Major upgrades to Google Earth getting rolled out today. For one, oceanic surfaces will be explorable in the same way that terrestrial ones have been.

Not getting as much press, but more exciting to me, is a new ability to scroll through time, seeing changes in landcover through history. Currently, custom data can be time-stamped and viewed as a temporal animation, but the landcover data that is the core of the Google Earth viewing experience has not taken advantage of that ability. Visualizing landcover change is fundamental. Being able to see how things used to be can shift perspective completely on how things are today. Watching that change might yield a sense of trajectory, adding a feeling of dynamism and potential.

Generally, western reductionist science drops the ball on understanding the world as an ever-changing place. We tend to describe the world and it’s systems as as a series of isolated static snapshots, and I think that way of thinking either leaks out from science into broader cultural understanding, or maybe leaked in from it. As Dean Bavington would say, we need to tell stories about flows, not just stocks.

Of course, stories about flows in landcover and human footprint requires having a time series of data, and that’s challenging both from an archival and technical viewpoint. I haven’t played with it yet, it will be interesting to see just how many mountains the Google Earth people have moved to make it workable.

According to the New York Times:

“By choosing among 20 buttons holding archives of information, called “layers” by Google, a visitor can read logs of oceanographic expeditions, see old film clips from the heyday of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and check daily Navy maps of sea temperatures.” —Google Earth Fills Its Watery Gaps

10 points to anyone who can remember the name of the guy who carried the onion-skin “layers” overlay metaphor into a computerized GIS context. It’s escaping me now, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t “Google”.


Love it.

[…] geo­graph­ical infor­ma­tion dis­plays which explic­itly incor­po­rate time, and Google is a big part of that. I’m a big fan of that — it helps take the focus off stocks and onto flows, and makes […]

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