Google Earth in the Science Classroom

As I write this, I am flying high over the New Mexico desert glancing out the airplane window marveling at and wondering about the world below me.  The rectangular fields, the alluvial deposits from ancient rivers long dry, the plateaus, hills and mountains all captivate me and remind me how incredible our planet truly is.  I also wonder at the forces that created all these features.  Fields, well, they are man-made so those are easy to figure out, but the natural features astonish me.  How high were the mountains before erosion took hold? How high are they now?  How wide are the alluvial deposits? How much material do they represent, where did it come from, and how long have they been forming? What geologic wonders am I missing by sitting on the south side of the plane?


erosional features

Unfortunately, not all of our students will fly at 30,000 feet over mountains just as we try and teach them the true power of erosional and depositional forces, nor will they see this view of their own town to realize that similar (although smaller in scale) features are found almost everywhere.  Luckily technology exists to enable you and your students to view almost any place on Earth from any altitude, and better yet, the technology is FREE!!  Free?  Yup, free.  All that is needed is a computer and an Internet connection.  Ok, yes, some of you will also need your technology folks to install software for you; but other than time, it’s free.

While there are multiple places to find satellite images I have two favorites: Google Earth and NASA’s Earth Observatory.

Google Earth, which does require installation, allows users to view photographic satellite (or airplane) images of almost any place on Earth.

While the software can take a few minutes to learn it is easy to get started.

Download at

Visit the following websites for more information on how to get started using Google Earth.  Also, make sure you are on our science listserv (sign up at to receive information about Google Earth workshops coming to ESC Region XIII in Spring and Summer.

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erosional features


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