EarthLabs > Earth System Science > Lab 4: A Bird's Eye View: Exploring Your Region > 4B: Defining Your Region

Lab 4: A Bird's Eye View: Exploring Your Region

Part B: Defining Your Region

Your local study site is just one small piece of the entire Earth system. It's a great place to study details up close, but it's too small an area to give you a thorough understanding of the bigger picture. Before you start to think about the Earth as a whole, consider the region surrounding your local study site. A region is larger in scale than your local study site and is generally characterized by some common feature or features that differentiate it from neighboring areas. Regional boundaries are where those features or characteristics change. Regions can be defined in different ways. They can have natural boundaries, human-made boundaries, or political/social boundaries. Here are some examples of regions with different types of boundaries:

Natural Boundaries

  • a watershed (area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it, goes into the same place)
  • a mountain range
  • a river basin
  • a desert
  • a plain
  • a peninsula

Human-made Boundaries
  • a watershed in which a boundary is a dam
  • an area larger than a local study site bounded by highways, railroads, and bridges
  • a natural area surrounded by populated regions or a populated region surrounded by a natural area
  • a park or game preserve

Political/Social Boundaries
  • a state or province
  • a country

Checking In

  • Based on what you know about the area around your local study site, what characteristics or features do you think you might use to define the region surrounding it? Why?

Google Earth is a virtual globe program that displays satellite images of the Earth's surface, allowing you to see things like countries, cities, and even houses from a bird's eye view. It's a great tool for expanding your view of the world and gaining some perspective on the relative size and scale of Earth's features.

  1. Install Google Earth. NOTE: If you already have Google Earth installed on your computer, skip to Step 2.
    • Go to the Google Earth download site and follow the instructions there to install the current version of Google Earth on your computer, preferably in the default location. For step-by-step directions for your operating system, use the following installation instructions for Windows or Mac.

      To install Google Earth for Windows: (Screen shots are from Windows XP and Internet Explorer 8.)

      1. Click here to go to the Google Earth download page. The page automatically detects your operating system, so you don't have to worry about choosing a particular version.
      2. Un-check the option to install Google's Chrome web browser on your computer; don't check the Help us improve this software.... option; and click the Agree and Download button, as shown above.
      3. You will see the following Thank you for downloading Google Earth screen. Depending on your browser settings, the Google Earth installer will probably NOT start downloading. Notice the To help protect your security... message at the top of your browser window. Click the message...
      4. ...and choose the Download File... option to download the installer.
      5. Windows may give you another security warning, and the option to run or save the file. Click the Run button.
      6. If you get another security warning, click the Run button again.
      7. Next you'll see a window with a progress bar, first for Downloading and then for Installing the program.
      8. ge_win_icon
      9. When the installation has finished, close any open installer windows. You should now see a shortcut icon for Google Earth on your desktop. Your installation of Google Earth is complete!

      To install Google Earth for Macintosh: (Screen shots are from MacOSX 10.4.11 and Safari 4.)
      1. Click here to go to the Google Earth download page. The page automatically detects your operating system, so you don't have to worry about choosing a particular version.
      2. Click the Agree and Download button. Your browser will display a Thank You page while Google Earth automatically downloads in the background.
      3. The Downloads window will show the progress of your download.
      4. At the end of the download, an alert box will tell you that the .dmg file contains an application. Click the Continue button to finish the download.
      5. The Google Earth disk image file (.dmg) will automatically mount on your desktop and open, showing this window.
      6. Drag the Google to wherever you want to install it typically, the Applications folder on your hard drive. Ignore the Google Earth Web Plugin.plugin.
      7. Close the Google Earth disk image window, then drag both the Google Earth.dmg and the Google Earth volume (below) to the trash to clear them from your desktop.
      8. Drag the Google Earth icon from your Applications folder to your dock to create an alias for easy access.

  2. Adjust your latitude/longitude setting to decimal degrees.
    • Choose Tools > Options(PC) or Google Earth > Preferences...(Mac)
    • In the Preferences window, choose Decimal Degrees for the Show Lat/Long option.

  3. Fly to your local study site location.
    • Type the address or latitude/longitude coordinates for your local study site in the Fly To box and click the Begin Search button ge_mad_search_button . NOTE: Google Earth is pretty sophisticated in how it handles information typed into the Fly To box, but for best results, type in addresses just like you would address a letter. Use spaces instead of returns between the street address and the city, state, and zip code. Capitalization and punctuation don't matter much, but spelling counts. It's particularly important to include the state or zip code, since cities with the same name can be found in many states.
    • Google Earth should zoom into your study site. Depending on your Internet connection, there may be a delay as the high-resolution images load.

  4. Mark the location of your study site with a placemark.

  5. Zoom out using one of the following methods. NOTE: If you zoom out too far and need to zoom back in, just do the opposite of what you did to zoom out.
    • If your mouse has a scroll wheel or trackball: move your mouse over the map and roll the wheel or ball DOWN (toward yourself).
    • If you don't have a scroll wheel: move your mouse over the map, right-click (CTRL + click on a Mac), and move your mouse DOWN (toward yourself).
    • Use the navigation controls: The navigation controls are in the top right corner of the 3D Viewer window. They offer the same navigation actions as mouse navigation, plus some additional features. The navigation controls disappear when you aren't using them, but re-appear when you move your mouse over them. To zoom out, click and hold the Zoom Out button (at the bottom of the Zoom Slider) to zoom out.

  6. Look for boundaries to define your region. Here are some things you might consider using as boundaries:
    • bodies of water such as streams, canals, rivers, ponds, lakes, or an ocean
    • topographic features such as mountains, plateaus, or valleys
    • vegetation types such as forest, meadow, wetland, or desert
    • roads, bridges, and other areas of human development (homes, office buildings, factories, and shopping centers)
    • political boundaries such as county or state lines
    • parks

    Stop and Think

    1: What features or characteristics are you using to identify your region? Why?

    2: How will you describe your region to the class? List the geographic landmarks that will help you identify the full circumference of the region's boundaries – north, south, east, and west. You can use latitude and longitude lines, if necessary.

  7. Share your choice of region with the rest of the class (print out an image if necessary). Explain to your classmates how you chose your regional boundaries.

  8. As a class, discuss the merits of the different regional boundaries each group selected. Come to a consensus about the region you will use to study as a system.