Friday, July 4, 2008

Cool Tools for Google Earth

Google Earth by itself can be a useful tool for the field paleontologist, as outlined in my previous post. Yet, some aspects of paleontological field mapping aren't supported "out of the box" within this software. For instance, many field localities are in the "Township and Range" format of the Public Land Survey System. That's the "NW1/4 of the SW 1/4, Sec. 21, T14N, R21E" style of plotting things - pretty much anyone who's done paleontology in the United States knows what I'm talking about (and how miserable it can be as a method of mapping and relocating things, versus a high-precision GPS coordinate!). Unfortunately, the default settings in Google Earth can't do anything to help on this. One or two handy plug-ins can save the day, though!

Township and Range Coverage
The Earth Point website has a KML file that provides township and range data for most of the western United States, and a handful of more easterly states. To access this, click here. For the field areas I've frequented, I've found the data to be quite accurate and easy to use. As you progressively zoom in, you can get right down to the section (and then click to get the full legal description). This is an extremely handy tool, and I strongly recommend it for any paleontologist utilizing Google Earth! Another must-have is the Township and Range Decoder. Enter a legal land description, and get it converted into Lat-Long format - or the reverse! So, so, so much easier than trying to fudge something on a topo map.

Topographic Map Coverage
I haven't used this feature as much, but did uncover two potentially handy tools. Map Finder allows you to quickly and easily find 24K topo maps within the U.S.A. - and download them for free as a TIFF file. The whole setup seemed to work pretty well for me. The Google Earth Blog details another cool plug-in, which is supposed to put the map right into Google Earth. I haven't tried it yet, but certainly will at the soonest opportunity (after I get back from the field!).

Even if it ain't open source, Google Earth has become a standard tool in my digital paleontology arsenal. It has saved me oodles of time and money, both in the field and back at the lab. If you're a field paleontologist - check it out!

1 comment:

Tor Bertin said...

I'm currently in the process of using Google Earth as a visual semi-interactive database of various paleontological finds--it was actually inspired by my spinosaurid project, but I'd like to make it as expansive as possible. I just place a placemarker at gps coordinates listed in various published descriptioins and add photographs taken of the specimen, specimen numbers, locality info, all sorts of stuff.

If gps coordinates are missing, I look for descriptors in the text mentioning the general area the fossil was found in and use that as a general locality reference point. It's a very fun project, and something I think will be really useful for my research down the line.