Sleuthing with Images in Google Earth

Frank Pabian
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Cafe Scientifuque New Mexico

Description

We all have heard about the big, top secret—and very expensive!—spy satellites that some claim can read a license plate in Red Square. But it turns out that a lot of very useful information about what our potential adversaries are up to can be obtained from a source that is freely available to the public: Google Earth, a product created by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This Café Scientifique presentation is about how we can use “geospatial” tools like Google Earth for sleuthing for important information-gathering applications, such as national security, treaty verification, law enforcement, homeland security, environmental monitoring, emergency response, disaster relief or even sightseeing anywhere on Earth.

In October 2009, Frank Pabian, a geospatial analyst at  Los Alamos National Laboratory presented about how anyone can use geospatial tools like Google Earth for sleuthing for important information-gathering applications, such as national security, treaty verification, law enforcement, homeland security, environmental monitoring, emergency response, disaster relief, or even sightseeing anywhere on Earth.

google-earth-12-700x406In our Café on Sleuthing with images in Google Earth, teens had  the opportunity to test their imagery analysis skills in a computer lab using the new geospatial tools. They had great fun trying their hand at “sleuthing” with Google Earth by examining a mysterious facility under construction near Shiraz, Iran. Is it a uranium processing facility…or not?

Download the activity we used –>Sleuth with Images in Google Earth

More on Google Earth

Google Earth is a virtual globemap and geographical information program that was originally called EarthViewer 3D created by Keyhole, Inc, a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) funded company acquired by Google in 2004 (see In-Q-Tel). It maps the Earth by the superimposition of images obtained from satellite imageryaerial photography and geographic information system (GIS) onto a 3D globe.

Google Earth displays satellite images of varying resolution of the Earth’s surface, allowing users to see things like cities and houses looking perpendicularly down or at an oblique angle (see also bird’s eye view). The degree of resolution available is based somewhat on the points of interest and popularity, but most land (except for some islands) is covered in at least 15 meters of resolution. Maps showing a visual representation of Google Earth coverage Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; Las Vegas, Nevada, United States; and Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom include examples of the highest resolution, at 15 cm (6 inches). Google Earth allows users to search for addresses for some countries, enter coordinates, or simply use the mouse to browse to a location.

Contributed by Cafe Scientifique New Mexico

Hands on Activity