Capturing Video from Google Earth Pro for Visualization of Landscape Development – Chris Fastie, Visiting Research Scholar

Technology Used: Google Earth Pro, GPS, digital video camera, Adobe Premiere Pro
Course: Environmental Studies 1011 – Reading Nature’s Winter Landscape
Number of students: 15

Photo by Carrie Macfarlane
Text by  Chris Fastie and Carrie Macfarlane

For ten years, Chris Fastie, Visiting Research Scholar in the Department of Biology, had been laboring to map the geomorphology of a four-mile stretch of Upper Plains Road in Salisbury, Vermont. As time allowed, he would venture out to survey the landscape, and sketch his findings on aerial photos. Last summer, he used a GPS (Global Positioning System) receiver to map some newly discovered kame terraces, installed Google Earth Pro on his computer and learned that there was finally an effective way to share his findings with others. When he received a request to lecture for a Winter Term course at Middlebury, technology and opportunity had merged to give new impetus to the mapping project.

The challenge was to illustrate a geologic process that took place across a large swath of land over a long period of time. Chris wanted the students to see the extant landforms in the field, puzzle over the processes that could have created them, and then see a visualization of the glaciers, lakes, and pro-glacial rivers that shaped the land 13,500 years ago.

The incorporation of technology streamlined the project. Chris walked the margins of glacial features while his GPS recorded a tracklog, then overlaid the data in Google Earth. Using Google Earth, he traced the tracklogs to make three-dimensional polygons representing kame terraces, deltas, and the retreating glacier. Chris said, “The ubiquity and ease of use of Google Earth make struggling with traditional GIS programs unnecessary for many simple mapping projects.” The Pro version of Google Earth was required to output digital video files of flying tours of the reconstructed landscape. These video files were edited together in Adobe Premiere Pro. Later, he added camera footage from a class field trip, narration and music.

Chris believes the video allowed the students to synthesize what they learned during the field trip, and he plans to use the technology again. “Animated visualizations of complex spatial processes are increasingly easy to produce and therefore increasingly common in the classroom,” he says. “This trend should be encouraged.”

His video documenting the class field trip and incorporating the visualizations can be found here: Old, Flat, and Unconsolidated: Salisbury’s Gravelly Past

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