My Google Map Blog

Tag: Site News

Fairy Circles in South Africa

by Timothy Whitehead on Jun.23, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

We recently took a trip from Cape Town to the Northern Cape province in South Africa and on the way noticed what looked like patches of bare ground or nearly bare ground:

The above are photos we took, but you can also explore the region in Street View.

This reminded us of Fairy Circles a phenomenon in Namibia. Last time we looked at Fairy Circles we also noted a similar phenomena in Australia. We have also seen similar patterns around the world created by ants and termites. And in South America we looked at patterns that are apparently created by worm poo.

At the time, we did not think to try and find one near the road and see if we could see any ant activity. Once we got back from the trip we had a look in Google Earth and found the patches are even more visible from above and cover a vast region:

We believe these circles are created by ant or termite colonies. They can even be seen in cultivated fields which suggests the soil is permanently changed. The Namibian and Australian fairy circles are found mostly on very flat land and scientists believe water plays a role in their formation. However, these ones can be seen on hillsides and slopes and seem to be stopped only by extremely rocky ground.

In most cases, the spots consist of areas of reduced vegetation, but in some places the pattern seems to be reversed with more vegetation in the spots:

In some cases there are are bare rings:

For the locations of some of the screenshots above see this KML file. But be sure to explore more as they cover a vast region.

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Landslide and Tsunami in Greenland

by Timothy Whitehead on Jun.22, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

Last Saturday, on 17th June, a landslide in Greenland caused a tidal wave, killing four people and injuring nine in the community of Nuugaatsiaq. Two other communities, Igdlorssuit and Viaqornat, were apparently affected. Read more about it on the Landslide Blog.

We thought it would be interesting to see the area in Google Earth using Sentinel-2 imagery. We downloaded the Sentinel-2 image from 19th June, 2017 and imported it into Google Earth:


The relative positions of the landslide and Nuugaatsiaq.Copernicus Sentinel data, 2017.

The distance between the landslide and the village of Nuugaatsiaq is about 30 km. Igdlorssuit is about 60km from the landslide site and Viaqornat just over 100 km.


The region as seen in Google Earth imagery.


The village of Nuugaatsiaq as seen in a DigitalGlobe image from 2012.

Here is a YouTube video showing the Tsunami arriving at Nuugaatsiaq:

To see the relevant section of the Sentinel-2 image in Google Earth, download this KML file
.

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A Landslide in California with Planet Imagery

by Timothy Whitehead on Jun.22, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

We love Landsat and Sentinel-2 imagery for their easy accessibility and global coverage, but they are rather low resolution at 10 m per pixel for Sentinel-2 and 15 m per pixel for Landsat. Commercial satellite imaging company Planet, now covers the globe with greater regularity and higher resolution (typically about 3 m per pixel) and for the US state of California, releases the imagery under creative commons licence within a couple of weeks of capture. We recently came across a large landslide that occurred along the Californian coast in an area known as Big Sur.

We were able to find it in Planet’s tool ‘Planet Explorer’ for browsing their imagery. You need to sign up to view daily imagery, but signup is easy and free.


The Big Sur Landslide as seen in Planet imagery.

Once you have signed up you can try going here to see the location in Planet Explorer. Try comparing before and after images with the built in ‘compare’ feature.

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Google Earth Quiz Maker

by Timothy Whitehead on Jun.19, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

Thank you to GEB reader Dieter van Werkum for letting us know about a Google Earth quiz maker he has created. See here for a sample of what it can produce, and the source code is on Github. He has adapted it to work with the new web based Google Earth as well as Google Earth classic.


Flyto Quiz in Google Earth classic.

The project consists of a KML file which you can modify to create your own multiple choice quiz. When the user gets the answer right, Google Earth flies you to the next placemark. The KML file contains all the instructions you need to customise it for your own quiz, although it would be helpful to know some HTML and CSS for the best results.


Flyto Quiz in Google Earth for Chrome.

It would actually serve as a useful template to start with if you are creating an ordinary tour of any kind. It can easily be adapted to have ‘previous’ and ‘next’ buttons instead of quiz answers and any content you like in the popups.

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Counting Gray Seals with Google Earth Imagery

by Timothy Whitehead on Jun.15, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

We recently came across this article about a scientific study of the populations gray seals in the North Atlantic that used Google Earth imagery to do a census.

One of the locations mentioned in the article is Muskeget Island, Massachusetts. We did manage to find the seals, but were also impressed by how much the sand bars change over time:


Moving sandbars at Muskeget Island, Massachusetts.

 


It certainly is a popular destination for Seals


The shallow water around the island makes it possible to see many of the seals in the water.

The above location has aerial imagery which is higher resolution than satellite imagery. Satellite imagery typically is not good enough resolution for spotting or counting animals. However, it is sometimes feasible in cases where the animals stand out such as seals on the ice in Antarctica. It has also been used to count whales which, in addition to being very large, also stand out in the ocean. However, Google Earth typically does not have much satellite imagery of the oceans other than a thin strip around the land, so we have only been able to find a few examples of whales in Google Earth imagery.

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Excel to KML Two Way Converter

by Timothy Whitehead on Jun.14, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

In January we created a simple KML converter that takes a KML file and produces a csv file that is easily opened with Microsoft Excel. Recently GEB reader David Kettle asked whether it would be possible to go both ways.

So, we have used an open source tool called SheetJS for reading and writing Excel files in JavaScript and have made a two way process.

To use it, simply upload a KML or KMZ file below and it will extract all the placemarks, paths or polygons into an Excel file. You can then edit the data in the Excel file then upload that and it will convert it back to a KML file.


 

Notes:

  • All styles, folders, etc., are lost in the conversion.
  • It only extracts the outer edge of a polygon. If there are ‘cutouts’ then they will be ignored.
  • It doesn’t currently extract folder names. We will consider adding that as a feature in the future.
  • It extracts the longitude/latitude/altitude data in the format used in KML rather than separating them into columns. This was to make it easier to handle both points and polygons.
  • When we tried it on very large polygons, Excel gave an error – most likely caused by a limit on the amount of text allowed in a single cell.

The intent was not to create a universal converter but to provide a very simply utility, and to give those with some programming knowledge a starting point if they wish to create something more complex. Feel free to use any of the code used in the page. The original KML API can be found here The version used in the page was run through Babel to make it compatible with older browsers.

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Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement in Google Earth

by Timothy Whitehead on Jun.13, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

When looking through the latest imagery update in Google Earth, we came across some images in northern Uganda. They were captured by DigitalGlobe as part of their ‘FirstLook’ programme and relate to the movement of refugees from South Sudan into Uganda. There is ongoing violence in South Sudan, which has in turn created a famine in the region. The combination is causing many people to flee the country. According to Wikipedia, the refugee camp is named Bidi Bidi, and with over 270,000 residents is the largest refugee settlement in the world.

before
after

Before and after of one of the Bidi Bidi camps showing that it was not there in 2013.

Unfortunately, the DigitalGlobe image does not capture the full extent of the Bidi Bidi camps and only shows the southern edge of one new section that has appeared recently.

before
after

Before and after of another of the Bidi Bidi camps showing that it appeared between August 30th, 2016 and December 11th, 2016.

So, we downloaded a recent Sentinel-2 image of the region and were able to identify a number of camps that have appeared at various times starting in 2014. We also had a look at this list of the world’s largest refugee camps and were able to locate most of them.

Refugee camps are quite distinctive in satellite imagery. They typically have a large grid pattern of road networks, which are not typical of that part of Africa. Small towns in the region typically grow slowly and more organically, resulting in a less ordered layout than refugee settlements which are planned and built in short bursts.

Some of the largest refugee camps are a collection of five camps in Kenya near the border with Somalia. The southernmost camp was clearly over-planned, with a vast network of streets laid out, but only a small portion ever occupied:


One of the refugee camps near Dadaab, Kenya. The whole grid is 5 km x 4 km

To see all the camps we found in Google Earth, download this KML file

You may also find this YouTube video on various conflicts and famines in the region interesting.

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Google Earth Imagery Update: Mudslides in Argentina and Oroville Dam update

by Timothy Whitehead on Jun.12, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

Mudslides in Argentina
In January, 2017, heavy rains in the northern Argentine province of Jujuy resulted in several mudslides that killed two women and injured at least five other people. Google has recently added some imagery captured soon after the event. As of this writing, the fresh imagery is only available in the default layer and has not yet been pushed to ‘historical imagery’.

Worst affected was the town of Volcán. Luckily the main mudslide seems to have been just to the north, largely missing the town. In April we saw a similar mudslide in Mocoa, Colombia, but it was not so lucky.

before
after

Before and after of the mudslide at Volcán, Argentina.

Slightly further north, the town of Tumbaya was also affected. There is less mud in this instance, but it is clear that a large amount of water came down along the southern edge of the town.

before
after

Before and after of the mudslide at Tumbaya, Argentina.

The floods also damaged the local highway, which affected the Dakar road race that had been scheduled to pass through the area. See the KML at the end of the post for locations.

Oroville Dam
In February, we had a look at the Oroville Dam in California. Google has added a new black & white image showing the damage to its primary and emergency spillways.

The image also shows us some flooding downstream of the dam:

Also of note is some imagery of Caracas, Venezuela, captured in April, 2017, which was captured by DigitalGlobe. It relates to ongoing protests in that country. However, despite there being nearly daily protests in Caracas and around the country, we were unable to find any evidence of them in the image.

To find the locations above in Google Earth, download this KML file.

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Data Usage: Google Earth Classic vs New Earth

by Timothy Whitehead on Jun.09, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

The new web-based Google Earth is based on a completely new graphics engine. So, we wondered whether or not Google had implemented any compression algorithms or other mechanisms to reduce the amount of data that Google Earth needs to download. An example of such a mechanism is Google’s own Draco 3D compression library which they open sourced in January.

To run our tests we used a technique we previously used to try and estimate the size of the Google Earth database. We created Google Earth Tours that follow a zigzag pattern across an area, going slow enough so that all the imagery that Google Earth needs is downloaded. We cleared the caches then ran the tour in both Google Earth Classic and in New Earth. We chose some areas over regions with 3D imagery and one where there is only satellite imagery.

Zigzag 1: Near Old Bridge Township, New Jersey, USA.
Google Earth Classic: 60 MB
Google Earth Web: 60 MB

Zigzag 2: Maceió, Brazil
Google Earth Classic: 66 MB
Google Earth Web: 63 MB

Zigzag 3: Longyangxia Dam Solar Park, China
Google Earth Classic: 6.6 MB
Google Earth Web: 8 MB

At this point it looked like everything was going well and there was very little difference between the two platforms. But then we thought of trying an area with lots of tall buildings. So we tried Hong Kong and got very different figures.

Zigzag 4: Hong Kong China
Google Earth Classic: 170 MB
Google Earth Web: 106 MB

After some experimenting, we found that the size of the view port in Google Earth matters a lot. If we changed the size of the side bar in Google Earth Classic to roughly match the placemarks sidebar in Google Earth Web it downloaded a mere 75 MB, less than half the amount of data than it did with a slightly narrower side bar and thus larger view port. So it would appear our overall methodology is flawed as it is difficult to ensure that the view ports are identical between the two products.

Despite the problems, we think that we can conclude that there are no major new compression algorithms in the new Google Earth at this time and you can expect similar internet usage when viewing a given area.

While creating the tours, we came across a maze someone had created in a field in New Jersey which was captured in the 3D imagery:

Here are the tours we used for testing.

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Street View goes to Uluru (Ayers Rock)

by Timothy Whitehead on Jun.08, 2017, under 3D Models, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, California, Denmark, England, Germany, Google Earth News, Google Earth Tips, Google Sky, Google maps, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Natural Landmarks, Netherlands, Sightseeing, Street Views, USA

Google recently posted on their blog an article saying they have recently released Street View of the iconic Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, Australia.

However, on closer inspection it appears they have not released the imagery via the traditional Street View channels – Google Earth and Google Maps – but rather on a platform called ‘Story Spheres’ which integrates Street View-like photospheres with sound clips. The only Street View on Google Maps we could find is dated 2015 and does not appear to include all the locations found on Story Spheres.

We found Story Spheres to be difficult to navigate because it doesn’t include any maps and the panoramas take a long time to load when you navigate between them – even though we have a relatively fast internet connection. Also, on each navigation, it repeats the same audio instructions, which gets tedious fairly quickly.

Although we do think that having audio clips integrated into Street View is a great idea (and Google is almost certainly not the first to implement it), we think it is highly unlikely we will see such a feature integrated into either Google Maps Street View or the new web-based Google Earth any time soon. Allowing the general public to anonymously upload audio clips would create a nightmare for Google should they try to censor the content for appropriateness. So, they would almost certainly be restricted to only allowing a small number of approved content providers. This would mean that there would be a very limited amount of content worldwide and justifying building the feature into Google Maps or Google Earth for a small amount of content would be difficult. Luckily, Google Earth allows for audio in placemarks and tours which means it is technically possible to build something very similar already using a Google Earth tour. What we need is better tools for tour creation to encourage more people to create content.

Although Google has not yet gathered 3D imagery for Uluru, it does have high resolution altitude data and so looks quite impressive in Google Earth.

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