EarthLabs > Climate and the Biosphere > Lab 4: Climate Patterns and Life > 4B: Biomes and Climatology Comparison

Climate and Biomes

Part B: Biomes and Climatology Comparison

In this lab you will work with Google Earth, a dynamic interactive map visualization tool. You will observe temperature patterns, biome types, and climatographs from selected cities around the world. As you work though the links and images in this activity, keep in mind how climate, a long-term average of weather patterns, shapes the life of a region.

If Google Earth is not available for your use, you can download and print out a PowerPoint file Climate and Biomes PPT (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 22.6MB Apr27 12) that contains the same climatographs and images as are linked in this Google Earth project. Use the printed file, the world climate maps from Lab 3A, colored pencils, and a globe (or world map) to get a sense of how climate patterns are life are connected around the world.

About Google Earth

Google Earth is a freely available virtual globe program. It displays satellite images, aerial photographs, and graphic layers on personal computers by serving them over the Internet. Advanced versions of Google Earth are available for purchase, but this activity uses the free version. Note: If you already have Google Earth installed on your computer, you do not need to download and install another version. Download the project file and then go to the section below entitled: Launch Google Earth.

Download and save the Biomes and Climate project file

Before beginning to download the files and data for this lab, set up a folder to store all of your work. Name it "Biomes and Climate" and place it such that you can locate easily, such as on your Desktop or Documents folder.

  1. Click on the link below to download the Biomes and Climate3.kmz file to your computer. To accomplish this, right-click (PC) or control-click (Mac) the link below. Choose the option that will download the file to your computer. "Download Linked File..." "Save Link As..." or "Save Target As..." are common browser commands to accomplish this task. This is a large data file, so it may take several minutes to download. Biomes and Climate3.kmz (KMZ File 4.4MB Aug1 11)
  2. When the file has downloaded, locate it and place it in the folder that you set up for this lab.

Download and install Google Earth on your computer

  1. Access the Google Earth download page to download and install the free version of Google Earth for your operating system.
    1. Click on the http://www.google.com/earth/index.html to access the Google Earth Site. You will see the window shown below. On this page, click the Download Google Earth 6 button.


    2. A Downloads page will open. On this page click the Agree and Download button. Note: you may want to un-check the "Include Google Chrome" check box.

    3. The download will begin. While the download is taking place, a Thank You page will appear.
    4. The program installer will download to your Downloads folder. The Downloads window will show the progress of your download.

    5. Depending on your browser settings, the installer may start automatically; if not, follow the instructions in the next step.
    6. At the end of the download, an alert box will tell you that the .dmg (Mac) or .exe (PC) file contains an application. Click the Continue (Mac) or Save (PC) button to finish the download.
    7. Depending on your system, the following alert may or may not display.ge_mac_dmg_contains_app
    If you are new to Google Earth and/or want more information about how to use the tool, this guide, and other support links located on this page, will help you get started with the program. Google Earth User Guide

Install Google Earth

  1. When the download is complete, locate the downloaded (.dmg or .exe) file in your Downloads folder and double-click it to initiate the installation. In some systems the installer will start automatically.
  2. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the installation. Typically, Google Earth is installed in the Applications (Mac) or Programs (PC) folder.
  3. On a Windows OS, open the GoogleEarthSetup.exe file and click Run. When installed, Google Earth launches automatically.
  4. Create a shortcut or alias to the program for easy access.

Launch Google Earth

  1. Launch Google Earth by double-clicking its icon or choosing it from the Programs list under the Start menu.
  2. In Google Earth's menu panel on the left, under the Layers list, check the box in front of Borders and Labels to turn this layer on. At the bottom of the Layers list, click the More check box and select the Water Body Outlines.


  3. Choose Google Earth > Preferences (Mac) or Tools > Options... (PC), in the window that opens, click the General tab, and set the display option to allow files to "Show web results in an external browser." Click Apply and OK to save the settings.
    This window is the same on both the Mac and Windows Operating systems.

  4. Minimize your Google Earth program and return to your desktop or documents folder to open and view the Biomes and Climate KMZ file, which you downloaded earlier.

Explore the global topography

  1. If necessary, launch Google Earth by double-clicking its icon on the desktop or dock.
  2. Choose File > Open and navigate to the Climate and Biomes3.kmz file.
    1. Choose File > Open from the drop-down menu and navigate to the Biomes and Climate3.kmz file.


    2. Single click to select the file, and click Open.


  3. The project will open showing a map of the world. If this is your first time working with Google Earth, take time to practice turning layers on and off and using the navigation tools (Zoom and Move map) to move around the globe. The Google Earth Users guide contains helpful instructions to get you started. The image below shows the flags indicating placemarks for the selected cities you will explore in this lab.

Explore temperature and geography

Turn on the Average Temperature (Day) for January layer. This layer shows the average daytime temperature for the years 1970-2000. It may take a few seconds to load. Take time to study the patterns of warm and cold areas on the globe. Use the legend on the upper-left corner of the map to help you interpret the colors. When you are done exploring this layer, turn it off, and turn on the Average Temperature (Day) for July. Observe the differences in these two layers. When you are done investigating, turn off both of the Temperature layers.

January temperatures.


July temperatures

Explore biomes and geography

  1. Turn on the Terrestrial Biomes (Olson et al. 2001) layer. Explore the locations of biomes around the globe. You may need to turn the Legend on and off for better viewing.
    Check the check box next to a name in the Layers panel to turn the layer on. Click on the layer name to select it, and make it the active layer. In the image below the Biomes layer is active.

  2. With the Terrestrial Biomes layer selected (active), use the slider underneath the Places panel to make the layer more or less transparent. Use the Zoom and Move map tools to explore the relationship between biome types, elevation, and proximity to water bodies. Note the patterns that emerge between biome type and geography. Record the patterns you observe in your science notebook.
    Patterns you might look for include proximity to water bodies, or over mountainous areas. Think of the regional climate drivers that you investigated in Lab 3B.
  3. Choose View > Grid to turn on the lines of latitude and longitude. Recall the Hadley Cells Hadley Cells: a direct, thermally driven and symmetric (north and south of the equator) circulation pattern that is influenced by Earth's rotation. and patterns of precipitation that you observed in Lab 3. With this in mind, notice the areas where deserts are located and areas where it is especially rainy. What geographical lines do these rainy regions fall between?
  4. When you are done exploring, turn the globe to re-center the view on North America.
  5. Stop and Think

    1. How do the biomes change as you go from west to east across the United States? Use your knowledge of regional climate forces to explain this pattern.

Explore climate and geography

  1. Turn on the Climate around the World layer. You will see a number of white flags appear on the globe. Click on the flags to see images of the climate zones as well as links to climatographs of the cities.

  2. In the window that opens click the climatograph link to open a climatograph in a new browser window.


  3. Choose three or more cities that are at similar latitudes across the country and compare their climate and biome type. For example choose: San Diego, CA; Phoenix, AZ; Lubbock, TX; Jackson, MS; and Charleston, SC to compare.
  4. Then, choose two cities that share a line of longitude, and compare their climatographs. How does geographic variation affect climate patterns?
    The climatographs used in this exercise are linked to the page What is Climatology?, which also has some interesting resources about drought.
  5. Close the tabs or windows when you are done exploring
  6. Stop and Think

    2. Look for two cities around the world that share a biome type and compare their climatographs. Do they have similar temperatures and receive similar patterns of precipitation?

    3. Describe the animals and vegetation that you see in the images of the climate zones.

    4. How does climate and life vary around Earth's surface? Give specific examples from this Google Earth project.

    5. Imagine you are a modern-day explorer and have been charged with describing how climate and biomes change as you travel north to south across a continent along one line of longitude. Write several paragraphs describing your imaginary journey by bus, train, car, or even horseback, from the North Pole to the equator. Tell your readers how the vegetation and animal life change as you travel south. Are the transitions gradual or abrupt? Use words to create a set of visual images for your readers. Be sure to include which line of longitude you are traveling on your journey. Optional: add sketches of the plants and animals that you saw on your journey.


Optional Extensions

Add the built-in weather layer to your project and explore today's weather patterns

In Google Earth, select the Weather layer and all the sub-layers including the clouds, radar, and information layer. In the information layer you can choose a 6- or 24-hour animation of clouds. Note: this is bandwidth intensive and may be best done on a home computer.

Investigate additional layers

If you have more time, you may want to add more layers to your map and explore other relationships. Some layers that could be included in the project are: Net Radiation January and July; Total Rainfall January and July; and NDVI vegetation January and July. This additional data can be downloaded from NASA Earth Observations (NEO). In NEO, be sure to choose the Google Earth image type in the Downloads Options box. Once you have downloaded the KML file, choose File > Open to add it to your globe.

Add a more detailed Climate classification map

Students who are interested in acquiring more detailed maps of climate classifications may wish to visit this site: World Map of Climate Classifications. Files are available in PDF, GIS, and Google Earth format.

Temperature change over time

Download and add the World Temperature Observations 1901-1990.kmz (KMZ File 566kB Aug25 11) layer to your Google Earth project. Turn the layer on by clicking the radio button next to its name. Use the toggle arrow to open the folder for this layer. In the folder, you will see temperature observations for three 30-year intervals: 1901-1930, 1931-1960, and 1961-1990. Turn each one on successively and observe how the temperatures have changed during this time period. The change is especially noticeable around the poles. Turn off the Temperature Observations 1901-1990 layer when you are done exploring.

Make your own climatograph

Download monthly average temperatures and precipitation totals for a city or region of your own interest from World Climate. The data is available in both English and metric units. Import the data into a spreadsheet program and create a climatograph. Use the climatograph that you create to compare climates around the world, or add it to the Google Earth project.

View a Climate and Biomes PowerPoint file

Click the thumbnail below to view a PowerPoint file of images and climatographs.

climate and biomes PPT 2
Click to view



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