Using High Resolution Imagery in Google Earth for Research in Remote Regions

Sunday, 15 February 2015: 1:30 PM-4:30 PM
Room 210CD (San Jose Convention Center)
Barbara Tewksbury, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY
Remote regions of the developing world have literally hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of inaccessible terrain, and remote sensing is a valuable option for finding interesting research problems in these areas. Freely available, high resolution imagery, coupled with an expanding collection of historical imagery accessible through the time slider, makes Google Earth an extraordinary platform for finding and carrying out geoscience and environmental science research projects in remote regions of the world.

Over the past six years, I have initiated several research projects in the remote Western Desert of Egypt in collaboration with a group of Egyptian and American colleagues. Google Earth is crucial for several aspects of these on-going projects. First, Google Earth makes it possible to browse large areas in remote regions to find interesting research problems. I have combed >100,000 km2 of Google Earth imagery in Egypt that would have cost millions of dollars on the commercial market. Google Earth was critical for discovery of the largely unstudied bedrock structures that are the subject of our current research. Second, reconnaissance using Google Earth provides a virtually cost-free strategy for collecting enough data to make a credible proposal for research funding. Current funding for the collaborative US-Egypt Desert Eyes project would not have been possible without the pre-proposal work that we were able to do using Google Earth. Third, we use Google Earth imagery to do detailed mapping in our areas of interest. This enables us to target critical areas for field data and sample collection to test our structural interpretations and to acquire ground truth for more accurate mapping in inaccessible areas. The recent advent of access to Google Earth imagery in ArcMap via Arc2Earth now allows us to map directly in ArcMap, which has more sophisticated mapping and analysis tools.

Google Earth is also crucial for how we conducted our work. Over the past six years, work on four separate projects in Egypt has involved more than a dozen collaborators spread over eight institutions in the US and Egypt. All of our “field” notes are taken in Google Earth placemarks and saved as kmz files. This ties observations directly to spots in Google Earth and allows us to email field notes easily among collaborators and to have productive online conversations about our on-going work. Google Earth also provides lat/lon coordinates for field work that enables us to find critical target areas easily in the field.