June 7, 2007 1:09 PM PDT

Do-gooders doing Google Earth

BERKELEY, Calif.--Three-dimensional maps from Google Earth are giving nonprofits new tools in their efforts to raise awareness of issues like deforestation and genocide.

For example, Mary Ann Hitt, executive director of nonprofit Appalachian Voices, said a collective of grassroots organizations is using 3D maps in Google Earth to show how millions of acres of Appalachian Mountains across four states have been destroyed by mining companies. In a process called mountaintop removal, the coal-mining industry blows off the tops of mountains with explosives to get at coal faster and cheaper, she said. As a result, surrounding areas are buried by pollution and waste, streams dry up and a soot lingers in the air, she said.

So with the help of Google, the nonprofit has built a virtual "national memorial" for 470 topless mountains in the area--marked by half-staff flags--with information and guides on the process of mountaintop removal. The map layer, found in Google Earth's "featured content," also shows historic before and after aerial photos of the mountains; overlay comparisons to illustrate the scope of destruction; and links to first-hand stories and videos from the communities affected by mountaintop removal.

"This has revolutionized our thinking," Hitt said here Wednesday at the Fifth International Symposium on Digital Earth. "It's given us the ability to give the kind of tour of the mountains that we only could give previously to the media or government officials. This gives (us) an audience of 200 million people," she said.

Hitt was referring to the number of people who Google says have downloaded and installed the geography tool--which in the two years since its introduction has captured the imagination of everyone from software developers to government officials. Earlier this week at the Digital Earth confab, Google Earth Chief Technology Officer Michael Jones recalled a quote from President Bush, who has said: "I kind of like to look at the ranch on Google, reminds me of where I want to be sometimes."

google earth with cause

The popularity of mapping tools from Google and rival Microsoft has spurred nonprofits and other organizations to develop "layers" for the service that visually guide people to a cause. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year said it plans to use Google Earth to map out toxic wastelands.

Already, government agencies at the state, federal and local levels are using static and dynamic mapping--to model traffic, crime and weather, as well as model what's happened in the past to forecast for disaster planning. Rebecca Moore, an engineer in Google's maps group who works with nonprofits in her paid free time, said people can expect more geographic visualizations from civil action groups in the coming years.

"Over the next year or two we're going to see a lot of interesting visualizations in Google Earth to educate people about climate change."
--Rebecca Moore, software engineer, Google Earth

"There are several environmental groups using it...(but) over the next year or two we're going to see a lot of interesting visualizations in Google Earth to educate people about climate change," Moore said during the Digital Earth panel organized by Google.

Moore herself used Google Earth to help organize community action in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where a logging company had planned to harvest timber. In September 2005, several thousand Santa Cruz, Calif., residents received an official notification and map in the mail for the plan, but it contained very few details.

So Moore created a virtual layer in Google Earth to map the area in 3D, which turned out to be thousands of acres of timber. She and the community of residents used the tool to add photos and time animations, which showed how neighboring schools might be affected by noise and pollution. That got the attention of California Assemblyman Ira Rushkin, who was concerned about the plan's impact on children and came out against it. The water company, which owned the land, withdrew the plan.

Under the layers of "Global Awareness" on Google Earth, people can also find a map telling stories of chimpanzees from the blog of Jane Goodall, an anthropologist known for her studies of chimps in the Gombe Stream National Park. People can read about Beethoven, a chimp in the Gombe park who disappeared in 2002.

The global conservation group WWF has also built a layer in Google Earth highlighting points around the world that are undergoing dramatic shifts, whether environmental or socioeconomic. People can zoom in to read about the changing face of Las Vegas due to population growth, or Guayaquil, Ecuador, the country's largest city and primary seaport.

Others are using Google Earth to highlight genocide. In April, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum launched a "Crisis in Darfur" project with Google Earth to show satellite photographs of destruction in Sudan, where more than 1,600 villages have been damaged or destroyed. The Google Earth layer contains interactive content such as photographs, data from the U.S. State Department and the United Nations, and eyewitness testimonies from the Darfur community itself.

The Crisis in Darfur project is the first layer of the Genocide Prevention Mapping Initiative, an ongoing collaboration between the museum and Google Earth on humanitarian issues.

"It's about telling stories in new ways," said Michael Graham of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

See more CNET content tagged:
Google Earth, nonprofit, Google Inc., visualization, mountain

11 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Just what we need.....
Those damned environmentalists putting their BS into great programs like Google Earth. Can't even enjoy the photos without their crap now. That entire "Global Awareness" category, needs removed.
Posted by jsmith1785 (30 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Umm Yea...
1. Google earth allows you Uncheck the box for Global Awareness.

2. It's your choice, to blind to the things that happen around us.
Posted by XoneDaGnome (15 comments )
Link Flag
I think that this is a good idea
I would like to see an overlay with the dead spots (no oxygen) in the ocean, along with the places in the world where the bee's are dying and the water has been contaminated by meds and household chemicals.
Posted by tsprague1 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE: Just what we need.....
If this is not what we need, then you tell me how do we stop those companies that hire killers to murder land owners just to get their land so they can rape it like an uncontrollable pedophile turned loose in an elementary school with no monitoring.

And DON'T EVEN TRY TO DISCREDIT, OR SAY ANYTHING AGAINST THIS STATEMENT UNTIL YOU FULLY VIEW THE FOLLOWING MOVIES:

Harlan County U.S.A.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074605/" target="_newWindow">http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074605/</a>

Matewan
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093509/" target="_newWindow">http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093509/</a>

For further study SEE:

Buffalo Creek ?disaster?: A crime by any other name
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.pww.org/article/view/763/1/62/" target="_newWindow">http://www.pww.org/article/view/763/1/62/</a>
Posted by the1kingarthur (47 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE: RE: Just what we need
Your comments may be true, but your extremist, nowhere near the mean temperment will turn off many reasonable men from reading the information you have presented.

If you had left out your pedophile-rape-murder analogy, which shows that you are thinking with emotions more than reason (or at least appealing to emotion more than reason), perhaps I would have considered your arguement. Instead it has been filed with the rest of the tree huggers.
Posted by greaterthan (5 comments )
Link Flag
omitted map
Thats interesting information. However the people at CNET forgot about the map that covers perhaps the most important crisis of our time:
&lt;html&gt;
<a href="http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?hl=en&ie=UTF8&msa=0&msid=103763259662194171141.000001119b4d1da52255a
">Monster Sightings!</a>
&lt;/html&gt;
Posted by Brandon Dollar (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
ARGH! UWAAARRR!
OK, funny, but the creator needs to adjust Nessie. S/He's not located on Loch Ness.
Posted by brianpaige (8 comments )
Link Flag
goo
"Great find! Thanks for posting this, that's my something new for today learnt."

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.freedownloadscenter.com/Multimedia_and_Graphics/Misc__Graphics_Tools/iPhone_Video_Converter.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.freedownloadscenter.com/Multimedia_and_Graphics/Misc__Graphics_Tools/iPhone_Video_Converter.html</a>
Posted by shark12er (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Google Earth maps are old..!!
And how did I determine the maps are old..? Simple, I looked at my
parents home via Google Earth and the motor home which they
sold well over 3 years ago can plainly be seen parked in their
driveway still..
Posted by imacpwr (456 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Amazing opportunity for students
In the current climate of education cuts, field trips are being reduced. Here's a way to visit multiple locations related to the curriculum without paying tour guides, entry fees or transportation costs.
Posted by Leslie619 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.