Google Earth Pro, once a $399 licence, is now available for free. The professional version of Google’s well-known mapping software adds several new features including the ability to make high definition “fly-through” movies of the earth, the ability to take area measurements, and a facility to import GIS data and display it in layers over the digital map.
This last feature could be particularly useful for ITGS teachers as it allows access to a vast amount of data in industry standard GIS data formats, rather than being limited to Google’s KML file format. Many governments and organisations make administrative, cultural, and geographical data sets available online for free, and sites like GISGeography have large lists and descriptions of the best sources, including:
The Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) offers daily updates of global data taken by NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System. The separate NASA Earth Observatory (NEO) site is also a must-visit. The rainfall map show above is from NEO.
Open Topography provides high resolution topography data acquired using Lidar techniques. At the moment the site primarily features data from the United States, but there are a few examples available from other countries too.
The Stanford Geospatial Center has gathered a wide range of GIS data sets. They are sorted by theme and tend to focus on physical geography, although there are quite a few data sets with social and economic data too.
While not technically a full Geographic Information System, the Pro version of Google Earth has many competing features and presents ITGS teachers with a great opportunity to add a practical angle to teaching this topic. With such a wide range of data layers available, students could investigate many different questions such as the best location to build a new hospital (perhaps using land value data, health data, population data) or the best way to protect wildlife from human interference (using land use data, road maps, and terrain type information).
As many of the sources above gather their data using Lidar and other remote sensing techniques, this is also a good opportunity to discuss the applications and benefits of these technologies.