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Google Earth Introduction: Download Overlays

Importing GIS data into Google Earth

Scanned Maps

The Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at the University of Texas at Austin has scanned many copyright-free maps.  For instance, there are many contemporary reference maps from the CIA, and many historical topographic maps from the Army Map Service.

These aren't geo-referenced (registered); Google Earth doesn't know where to locate them.  Users will need to use techniques for properly placing the image in Google Earth.

Lat/Long data

Files from the following locations may be large and cause problems if imported as-is into Google Earth.  Data can be pared down in spreadsheet or statistical software (e.g., limiting to certain feature types) before importing.

Many of these featues are not already labeled or not clearly visible in the Google Earth database, so it can be a good way of adding more information.

  • U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN): Download delimited text files of named features on USGS topographic maps.  Includes latitude/longitude coordinates sometimes up to 7 places past the decimal.
  • National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) Country Files: Tab-delimited text files of named features on U.S. military maps (probably approximately the features you'd find on a 1:250,000 scale map or chart).  Includes decimal latitude and longitude coordinates sometimes up to 6 places past the decimal.

Google Earth Library

  • Google Earth Library is a web site where you can access layers to add to Google Earth.
  • These are typically geo-referenced raster images (e.g., scanned maps).  Typically, you download a Google Earth .kml or .kmz file, which provides access to the layer.
  • Many of the maps/layers were created by various government agencies and libraries, and Google Earth Library provides a one-stop index to them.
  • Many choices first require downloading an index layer. Then, clicking on the spot of interest in Google Earth will give you the option to access a specific map overlay.

Geologic Atlas of the United States

The Geologic Atlas of the United States is a set of 227 folios published by the U.S. Geological Survey between 1894 and 1945.  Included are maps ready for use in Google Earth.  Included in each folio are a topographic sheet and several geology sheets. These are tupically 1:62,500 sheets (15' of longitude coverage), so there is only scattershot coverage around the country.

The map images are clipped of their borders, so the extraneous white space, legend, etc., don't show up in Google Earth and they can be seamlessly tiled.

Google Earth Hacks

  • Google Earth Hacks collects together files submitted by users that can be opened in Google Earth (.kml or .kmz files).
  • Most of these are placemarks indicating the location of such things as movie stars' homes or "Area 51."
  • The file downloads page might be a good place to start.  The many "Sightseeing" categories are mostly casual placemarks.  The "Image Overlays" and "Network Links" sections contain some more useful layers. 
  • There are a lot of ads.

Subject Guide

Mark Thomas's picture
Mark Thomas
233C Perkins Library