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In the Newsroom

September 11, 2009
Wrangling Google Earth into submission

In addition to editing video and keeping track of the goings-on in Europe and Brazil, lately I’ve developed another pastime: learning how to use Google Earth, the alternately fascinating and infuriating global satellite technology.

Using the detailed mapping software, you can see into your own backyard – literally. You can look out across the Himalayas from the peak of Mt. Everest. But how to navigate Google Earth’s decidedly un-user-friendly customization settings to make them suitable for a television broadcast? That’s a different story.

An example: thanks to increasingly specific satellite imagery, we now have the ability to zoom into cities not only in the U.S. or Europe, but also in many African cities, where for a long time detailed satellite imagery was lacking.

The problem: as you can see in this most recent 2009 composite view of satellite images of Africa, the continent now resembles a 19th-century impressionist painting. Pixelated splotches of color dot the landscape, where some areas have much more satellite coverage than others.

Happily, we were able to figure out a solution to this dilemma. Google Earth has an underused “history” button, which allows the user to view satellite images from different dates in the past. (Naturally, the number of dates available depends on what part of the world you are looking at and how far away from Earth you are.)

So if I want to show a view of Africa, but want to see a clean view of the continent, without all the satellite clutter, I can simply select the earliest date possible on the “history” view – in this case 1930.

This won’t actually show you 1930s satellite views if there were none from that time, but in the absence of such satellite imagery, Google Earth will automatically default to a clean satellite view of the landscape. So with this simple work-around, we’ve gotten one step closer to implementing Google Earth on our broadcast. Stay tuned!

Watch this video for some more Google Earth history tips and an interesting visual comparison of how the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan has shrunk over the years.

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I love Google Earth, and appreciate the tips you are providing! Thanks, and PLEASE keep up the good work.


According to this countries like India aren’t too fond of Google Earth.

Cntrl+F search “google”


this is useful to know..


I love google Earth, i didnt kno there was a history button you learn something new every day.
good vid but it could do with a few less ums.


How about using it to show us flooding in Turkey? That would also tie in with a discussion of global warming and how countries need to rethink how they pave over and otherwise use lands that are needed as flood plains. Personally, I think we need to build both upward and downward and not sprawl quite so much, and also need less people on the planet. Good luck with Google Earth.



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