Information Aesthetics mentions an audio-visual work called Bella Gaia, directed by Kenji Williams that animates satellite imagery and spatial data. The production makes use of NASA’s World Wind virtual globe and might be useful as an introduction to a lesson on remote sensing.
I haven’t used World Wind for a while because I found the Virtual Earth plugin essential and it didn’t work with the latest release. Thanks to the comments from Bull UK in this post, I have been able to upgrade to version 1.4 and enjoy some of the new features which include the 3D connexion plugin for my Space Navigator, the Virtual Earth plugin and lots of other enhancements which make the program even nicer to use.
I was interested in testing the Global Flood plugin for World Wind and am pleased to say that it worked very well, though not at the zoom level required for the lesson I describe here. When zooming in to street level the flood layer fills the screen regardless of the elevation of the terrain and the Google Earth option works rather better. However, if the object of the lesson is to look at the impacts of sea level change on a regional scale, then World Wind is an improvement on the Google Earth technique, and the level of flooding can be controlled by a simple slider. Observe the “flood of blood” invading the Gold Coast!
Click to enlarge Global Flood plugin in WorldWind
The recent update of Live Local introduced high quality aerial photographs for the UK, and the World Wind / Virtual Earth plug-in is a powerful rival to Google Earth in many respects. The Live Local images can be viewed in a 3D environment, and other World Wind features, continue to operate as normal.
I have written more on Juicy Geography
Thanks to an email from Marcin Brzezinski, I’ve had a look at the the most recent verison of WorldWind. The download was slightly quicker than usual and on opening the browser for the first time I was struck by the richness of the colour and the added detail of the Next Generation Blue Marble. I’m pleased that the original virtual globe is looking better than ever, partly due to the depiction of bathymetry.
The full range of satellite data is now available from the menu, providing a good opportunity to teach about the range of data available through remote sensing, and for my home area at least, the resolution is as good as that provided by the current dataset from Google Earth. There are a few new features, most notably real time weather overlays, but many of the improvements seem to be directed towards increased speed and usability.
Despite the emergence of Google Earth (and Earth Browser,) there are several reasons why World Wind still deserves it’s place in the classroom (for teachers lucky enough to have a PC capable of running it), the most compelling being the plug-ins developed by the academic community. Many of these are not available for Google Earth, a good example being an extension that locates the photographs of Yann Arthus-Bertrand. (Click on the thumbnail for a screenshot)
A list of available extensions and add-ons may be found here. Many of these are very useful in the geography classroom, and to my mind, World Wind’s less clutttered interface is preferable to the rather more commercially orientated Google Earth, when viewing large scale overlays. The MODIS and GLOBE features also provide a vast range of data, much of it viewable as animations, that would be particularly relevant to A level.
For the benefit of hard up teachers I have invested in the commercial add-ons provided by DYNAGIS and I can thoroughly recommend the “Golden Pearl” series, priced at 10 Euros, comprising many additional layers including:
Country Basic Data
Infant Mortality Rates
Life Expectancy Rates
Population Growth Rate
People Under Poverty Line
Bio Eco Zones
Wet Lands Wilderness Areas
Coloured Relief Map
Contoured Relief Map
Topological Height Ranges
Although the layers are visually striking, sadly the developers don’t seem to be able to add a colour key. The values are visible on zooming in to individual countries, once this option has been selected in the Layer Manager.
DYNAGIS overlay showing mortality rate. (Click to enlarge the thumbnail)
To their credit, DYNAGIS provide some of these layers free of charge.
In summary, World Wind is still capable of taking your breath away. The recent improvements, and the range of extensions make it a valuable classroom tool. But will your PC be up to running it?