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Lower Mississippi-Gulf Water Science Center -- Louisiana

Picture of USGS employee in a Louisiana swamp.
LAWSC incorporates Google Earth in website for easy data access – 25 May 2007

Aug, 24, 2010 NOTICE: References to non-U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) products do not constitute an endorsement by the DOI. By viewing the Google Maps API on this web site the user agrees to these Terms of Service set forth by Google.


The Louisiana Water Science Center (LAWSC) has added a Google Earth interface to its web pages to make finding the data you want easier and better than ever before. Google Earth is a web-enabled mapping software that lets us place markers on satellite imagery and attach information to each marker. With this new system, people looking for information about streams in a particular area can very quickly find the most recent stages/elevations, and with a click or two, they can access the full range of data available though our NWISWeb system. This new way to access and view our data is a great tool, but there are a few things you have to do to prepare your system to take advantage of it.

Caveats
This is not a USGS product, and as such, we do not control every aspect of what is displayed. It is a Google product that accesses servers run by Google Earth over the Internet. Our interface works because we create a specially formatted file on our webserver that supplies the Google Earth server with our data which is then used as an overlay to their geospatial database of satellite imagery. This is why you may see things other than our sites on the imagery. Google may include clickable links to Wikipedia pages and digital photos of places of general interest that are automatically included in the image window of the Google Earth software. Also, be aware that the Google Earth software requires an Internet connection, and it is an application written for broadband internet access, so a dial-up internet connection will likely be too slow. Also, some very old systems may not have enough horsepower to run the software comfortably. Make sure your system qualifies before you install Google Earth.

Getting Started with Google Earth
To use Google Earth, you have to download and install a free application from Google on your computer. The installation itself is rather uneventful and straightforward, so unless you have some special installation restrictions or requirements, you can simply agree to the Terms of Use screen and take the defaults all the way through. However, since this is a Google product you should be aware that during the installation process, the software may offer to install other Google products as well, such as Google Chrome and possibly various web browser toolbars. These additional products are not required for Google Earth to function properly, so you can choose not to install them if you do not want them. You also will be asked if you want your system to send your usage statistics to Google. Again, this is optional, and your decision here does not affect the performance of Google Earth.

Okay, it's installed . . . Now what?
(An annotated screenshot follows this paragraph. Purple text indicates a feature identified in the screenshot.)
Once you have successfully installed Google Earth, clicking on the "Real-time Streamflow Data Using Google Earth" link from our Louisiana Hydrowatch page will launch Google Earth. An image window will open showing a satellite image of the earth which will zoom in until it displays Louisiana with circular green markers showing the locations of streamgaging sites throughout the state. If the Google Earth sidebar is open, The "Places" section will have a list called "USGS Surface Water Gages of Louisiana," which contains all the sites shown on the image. Clicking on one of these names will open an information bubble in the image window showing where the site is located, and providing the latest stage and the date and time that stage was recorded. Clicking on a site marker in the image window has the same effect. Clicking on the stage or date and time links inside the information bubble will split the Google Earth image window into two frames and open your default web browser to the NWISWeb station page for that particular site in the browser window frame. You can break the frame out into a separate window by clicking on an icon in the upper right part of that frame.

Annotated Google Earth screenshot

Hey, this is pretty cool!
This is the almost-unanimous reaction by first-time users of the Google Earth interface. Navigation within Google Earth is a breeze, essentially consisting of zooming in and out and panning to show the area you want to see. You can do this either by using the mouse (wheel to zoom, click and drag to pan) or the handy navigation console that appears in the the upper right area of the image window when you move the mouse into that area of the screen. You can rotate the entire image and set your point of view anywhere from directly overhead to ground level. There are many options available to tweak the output as you see fit. Try it out and see what you think!

We hope that adding Google Earth to our website will make finding critical information more user-friendly and effective by providing a different and  more intuitive way for users to search for information. If you have comments regarding this new tool, let us know.

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