Google Earth Washington Geology Map program

Google Earth screen shot showing Skagit County, Washington, geology

Google Earth screen shot showing Skagit County, Washington, geology. Click to enlarge any image. The Eocene Rhyolite place mark is my own.

Google Earth (GE, download it here) can be a great tool for looking at landforms. Washington State’s Department of Geology and Earth Resources has prepared a set of 1:100,000 geologic map overlays for the state’s counties. Find them here. Scroll down to the very bottom of the webpage to find “Google earth 1:100,000 scale Surface Geology 3d overlays” . Download the kmz file, which automatically opens in Google Earth. The various geologic layers are listed in GE’s ‘Places’ menu. You can click the boxes to show, or hide, whichever aspect you are interested in. For instance, the default map units are opaque, and you can see no landscape through them. You can adjust the transparency of the overlay, or even hide the map colors (under the ‘geologic units’ submenu) so all you see are the welter of contacts. A tutorial video by DNR on YouTube explains usage of the Google Earth geology overlay. This uses the Whatcom county kmz file as an example.

The transparency slider.

Unit transparency slider: ‘Geologic units’ is highlighted, then click the blue box next to the magnifying lens, and tweak the slider.

The tutorial isn’t very clear on adjusting transparency, so I’ll go over that first. First, click the ‘geologic units’ box in the menu, then the blueish icon next to the magnifying glass at the bottom of the menu. Use your mouse to adjust the slider until you are happy, or at least reasonably satisfied.

GE Skagit geology, with unit polygons turned off. Lines are contacts and faults. Unit names remain.

GE Skagit geology, with unit polygons turned off. Lines are contacts and faults. Unit names remain.

GE Skagit county showing only occurences of Twin Sisters Dunite.

GE Skagit county showing only occurrences of Twin Sisters Dunite.

You may choose to use the menu to show only faults, or only unit labels, or only certain units. However, there may be a TON of map polygons associated with each unit, and each isolated occurrence of, say,

‘Darrington phyllite’ has its own box in the places menu. I’m still getting the hang of it. It is worthwhile to download one county’s geology .kmz file, and zoom out so the entire county is visible. Then you can click the various units listed in the expanded menu to see just what map unit, and where, that unit box belongs to. If you click on the name of a unit on the GE map screen, a balloon pops up with more, or less, information on the unit (see the figure below). Perhaps there will be only a tiny bit of information that is of little use, or maybe you’ll get lucky and get unit name, age, and even a reference. You can always rename units to make it easier to locate them in the places menu. Suppose you are interested in Darrington phyllite but only in the Blanchard Mountain area. You can find one of the mapped phyllite polygons on the GE image, click on the colored map polygon to see which label in the menu at left is highlighted, then rename that menu item ‘ Darrington SE Blanchard’ or whatever sort of personal label makes sense for your interests. You want to set aside some free time to play around with this program.

Burlington Hill (see page here on NW Geo FT blogs) with a unit clicked for info.

Burlington Hill (see page here on NW Geo FT blogs) with a unit clicked for info. Not all of the unit callouts will have this much information.

This is definitely a useful reconnaissance tool. These .kmz overlays take up a fair amount of space, so when you open GE you’ll need to be patient as they all load. The more county GIS layers you load into your GE program, the more slowly GE will open. You can always choose not to keep them in your GE Places menu, and access the maps from the DNR website each time instead. But then you have to tell GE not to save the overlay in the temporary places list when you close GE. Suit yourself. I use this tool a lot to help plan out field trips, so I’m the sort of person who would leave it loaded on GE in my computer.

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