Disaster! Brought to You by Google Earth!

The most recent posts on one of my favorite blogs, the Google Earth Blog, have done a great job of highlighting natural and environmental disasters visible in Google Earth. There are many sites and news organizations covering the oil spill in the gulf, and other natural disasters around the globe, but I was fascinated with the before and after shots that the Google Earth Blog posted for both the Haitian earthquake and the recent Yazoo City tornado.

NASA oil slick imagery in Google Earth

The imagery available in Google Earth once again manages to trump other still imagery found on the web, but more importantly adds an element of scale in comparison to video found on television and web news sites. Watching video of the oil leaking up from the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico and the ongoing clean-up efforts is great visual media, but I’ve always found it’s hard to give students a good sense of scale from video. Having the huge oil slick viewable in Google Earth where you could then using the measuring tool to estimate it’s area, and then compare it to surrounding land features gives students a much better idea of just how devastating the problem is. You could even compare the size of the oil slick to the size of your own community, county, or region, again using tools provided in Google Earth, and could generate some great questions.

Yazoo Tornado & Haiti in Google Earth

Also of interest is the use of the Historical Imagery Tool to get a time-lapsed perspective of the Haitian earthquake damage and Yazoo tornado in Mississippi. While you have to download an extra KML file for the tornado images, it’s quite startlingly to see the amount of destruction when viewed in context of time. I’ve seen certain construction sites and large structures be “built” in Google Earth as an imagery update will replace what was once a construction site with a finished building, but it’s another thing entirely to see the opposite happen.

The images from Haiti make for a great discussion about the human impact, as a city park is slowly overtaken by squatters and a miniature tent-city pops up by those that have lost their homes. Anyone teaching a course on world events or global studies should definitely make use of this resource.

Images: Google Earth Blog


  1. Google Earth is ridiculous. In a good way that is. Its a fascinating tool that I still find to be “futuristic” at times. Its like going anywhere in the world whenever you want.

  2. Great teaching idea! These pictures will in fact provide great retrieval cues for later recall. Kudos.

    The class room will benefit greatly by being able to have real-time visuals in which to facilitate meaningful and deep structure learning.

  3. If you travel to the World Trade Center in September of 2001 you can actually see a satellite image taken directly above the WTC when the towers was hit.

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