Emergent Models in Google Earth

Declan De Paor and Steve Whitmeyer
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Initial Publication Date: November 14, 2008 | Reviewed: November 2, 2013


This is one sample of a set of emergent models we are developing for use with Google Earth. Students use the Google Earth time-slider to lift 3D models of the subsurface into view. They can substitute their own sketch cross sections for ours. We plan to compare outcomes for real versus cartoon cross sections of the Earth's crust.

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This activity can be use in introductory courses such as physical geology or plate tectonics. It could also fit into advanced courses such as structural geology, tectonics or geodynamics.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Basic use of computer (Mac or PC), navigation with Google Earth, basic concepts of plate tectonics.

How the activity is situated in the course

Part of sequence we plan to distribute to colleague for use in Spring 2009 courses,


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Geometry and dimensions of crustal and lithospheric structures. Relationship of surface features to subsurface geology.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students learn to anticipate crustal structure from surface tectonic setting and overcome misconceptions regarding time and length scales.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students use a popular computer application (Google Earth) for scientific inquiry and develop their general 3D visualization skills.

Description of the activity/assignment

Working in groups, students learn to navigate a virtual globe, read geophysical data, and assess plate tectonic models. They prepare by studying about plate tectonics from their notes or from the text, and then apply that knowledge to real tectonic settings on the virtual globe. Students drag 3D models out of the subsurface and compare real data to model interpretations. They can also substitute their own sketches for our images.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Assessment is planned using think out loud protocols and keystroke logging by an independent external assessor, Dr. Janice Gobert.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

Zip archive for Aleutian assignment (online version)
Google Earth Science from Old Dominion University. Contains links and files for several geoscience applications
NSF Award Collaborative Research: Enhancing the Geoscience Curriculum Using GeoBrowsers-based Learning Objects

Here are my other AGU contributions:

Wed. 17th, 8:00h Location: MC Hall D. Poster: De Paor, Whitmeyer, Gobert "Emergent Models for Teaching Geology and Geophysics Using Google Earth" ED31A-0599

Thurs. 18th, 8:00h Location: MC Hall E. S J Whitmeyer, D G De Paor, J Nicoletti, M Rivera, B Santangelo, J Daniels "A Pyramid Scheme for Constructing Geologic Maps on Geobrowsers" IN41B-1140

Thurs. 18th, 17:00h Location: MC 3014 De Paor "How Would You Move Mount Fuji - And Why Would You Want To?" IN44A-05

Fri. 19th, 11:05h Location: MC 3008 S J Whitmeyer, D G De Paor, J Nicoletti, M Rivera, B Santangelo, J Daniels "Cross-disciplinary Undergraduate Research: A Case Study in Digital Mapping, western Ireland" ED52A-04

I'm also giving a talk in the Google Tech Talk series in Google HQ on Tues 16th afternoon 13:30-15:30h. Location 345 Spear

Street...about 8 blocks from the Moscone