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NSIDC Virtual Globes - Google Earth

submitted by Walt Meier, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado, Boulder

General Description


The National Snow and Ice Data Center offers some of their data in the form of Google Earth files that enable the user to overlay data-based images on a virtual globe. KMZ files of cryospheric (snow and ice) data are provided for input into Google Earth. Multiple fields are available, some updated regularly (e.g., sea ice each month, daily snow and sea ice fields), some are static data that are not regularly updated (e.g., permafrost).

Uses of the Program

Students can visualize where on earth snow and ice occurs and for some data (e.g., sea ice), track changes over time. They can look at daily, seasonal, or interannual variability depending on the data.

Audience and Setting

This could be used at the introductory level to simply show were ice and snow occurs and how it changes seasonally. At more advanced levels this tool can be used to explore changes and trends in snow and ice and possibly combined with other Google Earth data (e.g., temperatures) to investigate how snow and ice interact with climate.

Examples of Educational Use

When discussing climate, Google Earth animations of snow and ice can demonstrate seasonal changes as well as long-term changes in climate.

Related assignments

At the 2008 workshop on Teaching with New Geoscience Tools, faculty brainstormed for ideas about ways to teach using snow and ice data from the NSICD. Here are their ideas:

How to Get the Software

The KML/KMZ files re downloadable from the NSIDC Google Earth web page. Google Earth needs to be downloaded first - it is freely available. For more information about using Google Earth see the Google Earth tool sheet or Google Earth and Geoscience Education.

How to Use this Software

Once Google Earth is downloaded and installed and the KML/KMZ files are downloaded, they can be opened from within Google Earth or by just double-clicking on the file icons. Refer to the NSIDC Data in Google Earth FAQ


All About the Cryosphere
Information on the cryosphere that could be used in conjunction with Google Earth.

Visualizing Polar Change: Data and Tools to Understand an Arctic Climate in Transformation (PowerPoint 6.2MB Feb25 08)
A presentation from the 2008 workshop on Teaching with New Geoscience Tools. The Arctic is undergoing a rapid change, which will have dramatic implications for the Arctic climate and beyond. NSIDC has numerous datasets and visualization tools that can be used to track and understand this change and its implications. This presentation focused on Arctic sea ice, the most dramatic climate change indicator.

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