You may have seen or used Global Positioning System (GPS) devices in cars or on camping trips. These devices use data from satellites orbiting the Earth to locate places on our planet. GPS devices describe the locations to us in the form of latitude and longitude coordinates.
If you were an alien visiting Earth for the first time, you might remark on the diverse and incredible landscapes and patterns around majestic mountains, green forests, rolling grasslands, and turquoise oceans. You also might recognize geometries of civilization and changing weather patterns. All this can be explored from space. In this activity you will explore our planet using Google Earth and locate natural and man-made patterns and landscapes on Earth’s surface that inspire you.
Today, people are “mapping our world” with the aid of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology. Mapping can be done in the field or the lab—even from smartphones. You can make maps with real-time data about wildfires, tsunamis, and tornadoes. You can make maps with imagery collected with visible light, infrared, and radar data.
A map can represent data from an area on a flat surface. The part of our Earth system most frequently mapped is the atmosphere. Weather—the state of the atmosphere at a particular place and time—needs constant monitoring because it perpetually changes as weather systems evolve and move.
Awareness of what the weather is and is likely to be has numerous benefits. Weather can be hazardous, causing injuries, death, and loss of property. Weather maps are valuable analytical tools for informing people about current or future conditions.
Over Earth’s 4.5 billion-year history, tectonic upheavals and colliding plates formed mountain ranges and carved out basins. Forces of erosion and weathering have been at work to break down these landforms. Records of these processes are imprinted on the land and define distinctive landscapes around the United States and in its national parks.