Introduction to Google Earth and Plate Tectonics

Denise Bristol, Hillsborough Community College

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Initial Publication Date: May 10, 2017 | Reviewed: May 10, 2019


This activity introduces students to using Google Earth and adding layers to google earth, while re-enforcing plate tectonic concepts and evidence for plate tectonics.
1. Download Google Earth onto computer
2. Turn on/off layers within Google Earth
3. Be able to change measurement and use ruler within Google Earth
4. Determine latitude and longitude of ocean basin features
5. Be able to search for locations within Google Earth
6. Learn to upload new layers into Google Earth from .kmz files
7. Describe different plate boundaries, their locations and boundary interactions
8. Explain evidence for Plate Tectonics

Keywords: Oceanography, Google Earth, Latitude, longitude, plate tectonics, subduction, convergent, divergent, transform, maps.

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Learning Goals

Content/concepts goals
The role of this activity is to familiarize students with the use of, and tools within Google Earth, to review plate tectonics, maps, latitude and longitude, and so that they are familiar with the program when they start using .kmz files for the Exploring Marine Sediments lab and Sea Surface Temperature/Primary productivity labs.

Higher order thinking skills goals
Students should be able to apply their knowledge from Unit 1 in this lab (Maps, charts, latitude/longitude and plate tectonics).

Other skills goals
Proficiency with Google Earth.

Context for Use

Type and level of course
This lab activity is used in an undergraduate general education course: Introduction to Oceanography (OCE2001C) - typically mixed majors and non-majors.

Skills and concepts students should have mastered
This activity is completed during or at the end of the Plate Tectonics and/or ocean basins oceanography chapters where they have been introduced to the concept of plate tectonics.
Students should have mastered how to read maps and charts, Latitude and Longitude concepts, and the names and location of ocean basins.

How the activity is situated in the course
This is lab activity 1 for my online oceanography students and integrated into Module 2: Plate Tectonics. In Unit 1, the students are introduced to Ocean Science, Distributions of oceans and ocean basins, Maps and charts as well as latitude and longitude. In Face-to face classes it is the 2nd lab after a latitude/longitude and ocean basins map lab.
The purpose is to 
1. Review and re-enforce basic latitude and longitude understanding, 
2. Review Plate Tectonics and the evidence for Plate Tectonics
3. Learn to use functions within Google Earth.
4. Learn do download layers into Google Earth.

This introductory activity is to prepare the students for the Exploring Sediment Distribution Lab [adapted from: ] that uses different sediment and SST layers (GEODE project - that uses IODP/ODP sediment core data). This activity was designed after students were having trouble following instructions for downloading and interacting with the data layers. This activity may also be used as a stand alone lab to review maps/charts, plate tectonic concepts/evidence, latitude/longitude, and major ocean basin features.

Description and Teaching Materials

This activity introduces students to using Google Earth and adding layers to google earth, while re-enforcing plate tectonic concepts and evidence for plate tectonics.

Intro google earth Student Answer sheet format v.5.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 13kB Feb12 19)

Google Earth and Plate Tectonics Lab v.5.0.pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 1015kB Aug24 20)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students need a Computer to complete this lab. Students must be able to save files to the computer.

References and Resources

Google Earth and Google maps are products of © 2015 Google Inc, used with permission. Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google Inc.
Exercise 4 and 5 are adapted from the following:
Pangaea Breakup - A learning resource for students; Designed, programmed, and tested by Steven Whitmeyer, Mladen Dordevic, Tyler Hansen, and Bill Swanger available from: . This is part of the GEODE Project funded by NSF DUE 1323468 and a Google Curriculum award to JMU.

NOAA and Monterey Institute oceanography videos:
Plate Tectonics and global impacts:
Mid Ocean Rides:
Subduction zones: