Declan Butler, reporter This is the personal blog of Declan Butler, a senior reporter at Nature. All views expressed here are mine, and not those of Nature. Contact me at

February 15, 2006

Google Earth on the cover of Nature

Filed under: GIS,Google Earth — admin @ 7:34 pm

What on Earth is Google Earth doing on the front cover of Nature, the international weekly journal of science?

This week’s issue contains several pieces on virtual globes, and all are on free access. I’ve written a three-page feature — Virtual globes: The web-wide world — on the various ways scientists are beginning to use virtual globes, such as Google Earth and Nasa’s World Wind. And Al Gore, former US vice-president, who envisioned the Digital Earth in 1998, also gives his thoughts on the new developments, and his initial vision. “Its highest purpose was to use the Earth itself as an organizing metaphor for digital information,” he says in the article.

I discuss the feature in an accompanying podcast.

There is also a two-page Commentary — “Mapping disaster zones” –on the use of Google Earth in humanitarian disasters. It’s authored by Global Connection scientists — Illah Nourbakhsh and Randy Sargent, Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania, and Anne Wright, NASA/Ames, California — Brian McClendon and Michael Jones at Google Earth, and Kathryn Cramer.

Nature itself has its lead editorial — Think Global — devoted to a look at spatial thinking in science.

Online, we also have added a couple of extra short boxes to complement the above: one looking briefly at how virtual globes work, and another on what might be next….

During research for these pieces, I interviewed Jack Dangermond, president of ESRI, Brian McClendon, Director Engineering, Google Earth, and many others in the GIS field. As well as discussing virtual globes in science, we also touched on a few other more GIS-related themes — such as the future of Google Earth and ESRI’s upcoming ArcGis Explorer. I’ll blog excerpts from much of this extra material here, though probably not before I get back after the weekend from the AAAS mtg in St Louis.

I also collected an extensive collection of bookmarks to various great resources on GIS, science, and virtual globes during the research; I will upload all of these to my GIS tag on Connotea, NPG’s free social bookmarking service for professionals in science, technology and medicine. If you want to be sure not to miss these sign up to my web feed for this tag.

I’ll be updating my own beta GE maps of avian flu outbreaks over the next few days. Not only will this bring it up to date with recent outbreaks and cases, but it’s a major rebuild of the backend that will make it much easier to update with events. It will also contain a number of related extra overlays, in addition to outbreak and case data, such as poultry densities worldwide (see screenshot below for a preview), and distributions of the main migratory birds suspected of being involved in spread.

Comments welcome as always; don’t be put off by the fact that comments are moderated on this blog; I don’t moderate comments; I only screen to keep it clean of comment spam

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