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Center for Teaching, Research & Learning

Social Science Research Lab

American University, Washington, D.C.

Introduction to Google Earth

This tutorial is an introduction to Google Earth, a virtual globe, map, and geographical
information program. Google Earth maps the Earth by the superimposition of images obtained
from satellite imagery and aerial photography. You can explore layers created by other Google
Earth users or create your own layers to display data and other information on the Google
Earth maps.
Download Google Earth for free at http://www.google.com/earth/index.html
You can also watch free video tutorials on Google Earths website:

Course Objective
This course is designed to introduce the common functions of Google Earth (free
version). You will develop skills for customizing layers using placemarks, path, polygons, and
other tools available by Google Earth. Finally, you will learn now to export your maps as an
image file or .kml or.kmz file to share your work.
Course Review
1. Navigating the Google Earth layout
2. Understanding Layers
3. Tools for customization
4. Creating a tour
5. Extra tools for exploration
6. How to save/share your image

Navigating the Google Earth Layout

When you open Google Earth, you will immediately have the globe in your hands for navigation. First,
lets understand the Google Earth Layout:

Search bar
Fly to tab : Here you can type in the name of the place you want to fly to. You can insert the name of a
country, city, or other popular landmark (e.g. Eiffel Tower).
Find businesses tab: Enter in the name of a business location.
Directions tab: You can also find the direction between two locations. You can use exact addresses or
general locations.
When you search for a location or a crate a placemark, that information appears in this area. [The
Sightseeing Tour and Temporary Places folders appear by default]. You can edit and delete your
places by right-clicking the name of the location.
Explore the Earth Gallery to see layers created by other Google Earth users and choose to hide or reveal
layers made available by Google Earth.
Use the placemark, polygon, path, history, ruler, and other tools to customize your map.
Use the arrows to zoom in and out of the globe and control the camera to view your map in unique

In addition to using the arrows on the right side of the screen, you can use the right-click button on your
mouse to zoom in and out and rotate your map. (Hold the right-click button down and move the mouse
up or down.)

Understanding Layers
A plain satellite image is just that until you add information to visualize the data you want to explain.
Layers are used to represent information on a map. Imagine layers as a transparent sheet with
information that goes over a plain map. For example, you can add a transparent sheet with blue lines
over a plain map to represent rivers. You can put another transparent sheet over that with polygons that
represent flood zones over that sheet. Now the plain map shows information on rivers and flood zones.
If you want to just display the flood zones, you can remove the river sheet.
This concept works for understanding layers in Google Earth. In the bottom left-hand corner, you will
find layer options provided by Google Earth.
To make a layer visible, click on the box next to the layer name and the layer will appear on the map.
Below is an example of a map with the Borders and Labels and Roads map layers on.

To hide a layer, simply unclick the layer. In this case, to remove to Roads layer, just unclick the checkbox
next to Roads.
Some of the layers, such as Photos are comprised of information submitted by other Google Earth
users. For example, this is layer of photos in Zimbabwe:

You can use the 3-D option to view certain places in Google Earth in 3-D. This works best for navigating
big cities. Make sure you use your navigation tools to see the 3D buildings in a good perspective. Below
is London, England using the 3D layer:

Google Earth Gallery

You can also explore layers created by other Google Earth users. These are layers submitted by research
institutions, universities, NGOs, and other individuals who share their data and information with the
Google Earth community.

To access the Google Earth Gallery, click on the Google Earth Gallery button in the layers box.
Once you are in the Gallery, you can search for specific topics in the search box at the top of the screen.

Select a layer to explore and choose Open in Google Earth. The layer will appear in the left-hand side
in the Places box.
Below is an example of the Volcanoes layer provided by the Smithsonian Institution.

To return to Google Earth, click on the Return to Google Earth button at the top.

Tools for Customization

Like the many examples in the Google Earth Gallery, you can create your own layer of information on
Google Earth. You will use the tools located at the top of the screen:

1. Placemark
2. Polygon
3. Path
4. Image overlay
9. Ruler

5. Tour
6. History
7. Day/Night
8. Explore Sky, Moon, or

10 11 12

10. Email
11. Print
12. View in Google Maps

Place marks
To create a place mark, click on the Placemark button. A pushpin icon will appear on the map with a
blinking yellow box around it. While the yellow box is blinks, position the placemark in the location you
The Properties Box of that placemark will also appear:

Write the name of the placemark in the Name box. You can also choose from a variety of other place
mark icons when you press the yellow pushpin on the top right hand corner.
The Properties Box also provides you with the exact longitude and latitude coordinates of that location.
In the Description tab, write a description of that location. This will appear in the placemark bubble
when you click on the placemark afterward. In the Style, Color tab, choose the style and color of the
label (the name that appears on the map) and icon.
You can also adjust the opacity of each. In the View tab, you will find more information on the position
of your map. In the example below, the tilt and angle of the maps position has changed, and the
information appears in the relevant boxes. If you want the exact angle of your map to appear each time
you click on your place mark, click on Snapshot current view to preserve that perspective.
The Altitude tab positions your place mark at a set distance relative to the ground. This is better viewed
depending on which angle you are looking at your place mark.

When youre finished, click OK. If you want to edit the properties of your place mark again, right-click on
the place mark or on the place mark name on the left hand side and choose Properties.
Creating and editing a polygon on Google Earth is essentially the same as creating a placemark, only this
time you are creating a shape to represent an area on the map.

To create a polygon, click on the polygon icon above. The properties box will also appear and so will a
small target box on the map. Click and hold the mouse over the area where you want to create the
polygon and begin drawing your shape. Once you complete the shape, the area will fill with a color, and
you can adjust the properties of the polygon in the Properties Box.
As with the placemarks, enter the description of the polygon in the Description tab. In the Style, Color
tab, adjust the style and color of the lines and area of the polygon. You can also control the opacity (as
exemplified below). In the View tab, take a snapshot image of the angle of your map.

Use the Altitude tab to adjust your polygons distance from the ground (the image would look like the
lines are being raised from the floor).
The example above shows a rough area where Boto dolphins can be found in the Amazon.
If you want to edit the properties of the polygon, right-click the polygon on the map or the name of
polygon in the Places box located at the left of the screen.
The steps for creating a path are generally the same as creating a polygon. Click on the path button at
the top of the screen, and use the target box to create your line.
In the properties box, give the line a name and a description. Adjust the color and thickness of the line in
the Style, Color tab. In View, choose an angle to see your map. In the Altitude tab, you can choose how
you can lift your line from the ground by adjusting the distance from the ground.
In the Measurements tab, Google Earth measures the distance of the line you created in various
distance measurements.

This is what the map looks like so far with the placemark, polygon, and line layers. The example below is
the bubble that appears when you click on the polygon. The information that was written in the
description box (not mentioned previously) for the polygon appears in the bubble.

Image Overlay
You can also add an image to your map using the image overlay option. Click on the image overlay
button and you will find the familiar Properties Box and also a green rectangle on the map.

In the Properties Box, give the image overlay a name. Then, browse for the image you want to place on
the map. You can also control the opacity of the image.
When you choose an image, the image will have green lines on the corners of the image. Use the green
lines to adjust the size of the image. Grab the image from the center to drag it to the location you want.

Use the ruler option to measure distances on the map. Click on the Ruler button and create a line
across the map using the target box. The ruler measures distances for lines and paths in various
distance measurements. Click on Mouse Navigation if you need to navigate the map. Unclick it when
youre ready to create the line for measurement.


Organizing your Placemarks

It is best to organize all your placemarks, polygons, and lines in one folder, especially if you are intending
to create one layer that all of these assets belong to.
To create a folder in the Places box, right-click Temporary Places and select Add > Folder. You will be
asked to give your folder a name and optional description. Keeping the Allow this Folder to be
Expanded option is recommended so you can easily see what is inside the folder and move your
placemarks between folders if necessary.
To move your placemarks into the folder, simply click and drag the placemarks into the folder you
created on the left side of the screen.

Extra Features
You can record a tour of all your place marks using the Tour option. When you click on the Tour button,
youll find two buttons at the lower left hand corner of the map:

The button on the right is the record button. If you want to record audio with the tour (such as your
voice narrating the tour), click on the audio button.
When you click on the record button, it will record all of your navigation activities. Click on your saved
placemarks in the Places box on the left to quickly get to your placemark locations. You can also
navigate freely.
When you are ready to view your tour, press the record button again the stop recording. You will then
see the buttons below:

Press the play button to see your tour. You can also rewind, fast-forward, loop, and save your tour.
When you save the tour, the tour will appear in the Places box on the left.



You can also see maps of an area from the past (depending on if Google Earth has the images for that
region). When you click on the History button, you will see a slider at the top of the map that allows you
to move back in time.

Move the slider back to see the image from a different month and year. The images available vary for
different regions, so you may not be able to go as far back as you would like for some areas.

The Day/Night button allows you to view the map at different times of the day. Watch the sunlight
appear and draw back over your selected area.
Explore the Moon/Sky/ Mars

In addition to exploring Earth, you can explore the sky, the moon, and even Mars. Click on the planet
button and choose which extraterrestrial body you want to discover. The rules for navigation and
customization work the same for any of the maps. Below is an example of the Apollo 11 mission to the


How to save/share your map or image

You can save your map as an image or as a special Google Earth format so that anyone with Google
Earth can see your place mark on Google Earth also.
To save the image of your map in .jpeg format:

File > Save > Save Image

You can only save Google Earth images in .jpeg.

To save a single place mark (polygon, or line):

File > Save > Save Place As

Or, you can right-click the placemark (located on the left of the screen) and select Save Place As.
You can save your place mark as a .kmz or .kml (these are special file formats by Google Earth. .kmz is
recommended for saving single place marks). When you open a .kmz file, the file will instantly open in
Google Earth in the exact angle that you saved your place mark location. You can email the .kmz file to
your friends, and they will see the exact place mark on Google Earth on their computers. You can also
edit your .kmz file and re-save it.
To save an entire layer:

Right-click the name of the layer folder and select Save Place As.
You can save it as either a .kmz or .kml (.kml is recommended). When you open a .kml file, the file will
instantly open in Google Earth. You will see all of your saved place marks. To expand the folder, click on
the little + next to your file name under Places and you will see each individual place mark for your
layer. You can also edit your layers and re-save them.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------For any questions regarding Google Earth or this documentation, please feel free to contact the
SSRL office by email at ssrl@american.edu


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