Google Earth: Visualizing the Possibilities for Geoscience Education and Research
John Bailey1, Declan De Paor2, Tina Ornduff3, Steve Whitmeyer4

(1) University of Alaska Fairbanks
(2) Old Dominion University
(3) Google Inc.
(4) James Madison University


In 2009, we conveners held a working lunch at Annual GSA. During that year, virtual globes such as Google Earth were the subject of short courses and workshops at national and regional meetings, including a GSA Pardee Session, and an AGU Townhall Meeting. We noted keen interest in the Virtual Globe sessions at AGU and publishers told us that the number one request of instructors they surveyed was for integration of Google Earth exercises into textbooks. Over lunch, we discussed how to “take it to the next level” – “it” being, in particular, the quiet revolution in earth and planetary science education that is currently fueled by technology such as Google Earth. Steve mentioned a Penrose conference and in a matter of minutes, this changed from a suggestion to an imperative. A Penrose Conference about Google Earth’s role in Geoscience Education had to happen – and where else but at Google HQ in Mountain View, CA? Bringing together a select group of geoscience experts, committed educators, authors, and Google engineers was exactly what was needed to propel the Google Earth Science revolution upward and onward. Tina obtained rapid authorization and sponsorship from Google and, thanks to the enthusiastic efforts of Tracy Rushmer, Melissa Cummiskey, and Becky Sundeen, GSA processed our Penrose application in record time. Because of deadlines, we had to announce the conference before obtaining NSF support. That support came through via Dave Matty’s TUES program. Unfortunately, the GSA Penrose committee no longer has endowment earnings to distribute, so we also had to ask you all to contribute with your registration fees. Thanks to the generous support of Oxford University Press, we were able to subsidize graduate student participation, and to Gigapan Systems for loaning Gigapan units for use during the fieldtrip.

On any committee, there are those who carry the main workload and then there are slackers. In this case, John, Tina, and Steve did virtually all the heavy lifting while I (Declan) took time off for a heart operation. I can truly say that I have never been more happy to be able to attend a conference!

So what’s the big deal about Google Earth in in Geoscience Education? To answer that, you’ll have to attend my presentation! Suffice it to say that scientific revolutions don’t come around often in a given field. Virtual Globe visualization technology is leading to a paradigm shift in geoscience education, yet significant challenges need to be addressed, overground and especially underground. It’s an exciting time to be an active participant at a meeting such as this!