Using Digital Earth Technology in Sustainable Development Education

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Using Digital Earth Technology in Sustainable Development Education

  • Professor Simon Haslett
  • Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching
  • University of Wales, Newport
  • Presented at the Higher Education Academy
  • Annual Conference,
  • University of Hertfordshire, 22 June 2010


  • HEA-GEES funded project 2008-2010.
  • Collaboration between University of Wales, Newport, and Bath Spa University.
  • Project aims:
  • provide an overview of current use of Google Earth in sustainable development education,
  • highlight existing cases of best practice,
  • develop a new blended learning example(s) and monitor student engagement,
  • make recommendations for embedding in diverse curricula, and
  • suggest further developments for its future use.

Google Earth and ESD

  • health (e.g. Boulos, 2005),
  • planning (Ball, Capanni and Watt, 2007),
  • tourism (e.g. Cao et al., 2006),
  • water technology (Imberger, Wood and Marti, 2006),
  • biodiversity (e.g. Katsarapong et al., 2007),
  • archaeology (e.g. Parcak, 2007), and
  • urban development (e.g. Pugnaloni et al., 2007)
  • geography (a number of examples emerging)

Case study development

  • GE3012 Climate and Environment
  • Honours Level 20 credit team taught module
  • Delivered 1 hour lecture + 2 hour prac, plus one field day
  • One semester of 12 weeks
  • Assessed by essay and exam (50% each)
  • Develop 2 week climate change and sustainable development lab prac to support exam topic
  • i.e. integrating (palaeo)climate change and SD

Exercise brief

  • “This practical aims to explore the links between palaeoclimate research, present climate change impacts, and related sustainable development issues.
  • In this practical you will examine a proxy (geochemical) palaeoclimate record collected from an Ocean Drilling Program core (ODP site 658) taken in the eastern tropical Atlantic, offshore Cap Blanc (Mauritania, western North Africa).
  • This will be followed by a consideration of modern climate change impacts in the region and the associated sustainable development issues.”

Linking research and teaching

  • On Minerva [Blackboard], you are provided with an Excel table of geochemical data from Haslett and Davies (2006). Plot the Aluminium (Al) data against time and smooth with a 3-point moving average … If Al deposition at this site represents dust transported by aeolian processes offshore from the Sahara/Sahel:
  • Interpret the sequence.
  • Identify any major palaeoclimate cycles/events present or absent (i.e. Heinrick Events, LGM, Bond Cycles, Dansgaard-Oeschger Events)
  • Is there any relationship between palaeoclimate and dust input?
  • What is the implication of this palaeoclimate research for understanding modern climate change impacts?
  • Cool sea-surface temperatures in the tropical North Atlantic increases North African precipitation, vegetation cover, and reduces aridity.
  • Haslett & Davies (2006, TIBG)

Google Earth Component

  • Using Google Earth:
  • Briefly ‘fly over’ the modern landscape of Mauritania.
  • For Nouakchott, examine the eastern margin of the urban environment, and:
  • Describe the condition of the urban-desert margin.
  • Interpret the current dynamic status of the urban-desert margin.
  • Is there a link between the modern landscape and climate change?
  • Is there any evidence that measures have been deployed to enhance the sustainable development of the area?
  • “There is a high frequency of active winds and desert winds may blow through the city as often as 160 days per year, leading to greatly reduced visability” (Chenal & Kaufmann, 2008, Cities, 25, 163-175).
  • Nouakchott: urban – desert margin.
  • Green Belt of Nouakchott.
  • Funded by Walloon Regional Finance (Belgian Government Sustainable Development initiative 2005-2008).
  • Each tree is given 200 litres of water.
  • 1270 ha protected in this way, but already c. 400 ha are threatened by overgrazing and lack of maintenance.
  • Leptadenia fences
  • Prosopis planting
  • Link sustainable development actions to geomorphology?
  • Read: Jensen and Hajej (2001, Unasylva, Vol. 52, pp. 31-36) who review aspects of infrastructure problems (‘Road of Hope’) associated with climate change impacts in Mauritania.
  • 1. Rainfall reduced by 49% from 1941-1970 towards end of century (152 mm/yr to 77 mm/yr)
  • 2. Sand inundated 25% of roads over the period (150/600 km of road)
  • Nouakchott founded
  • 1958-1988 major phase of urban development, but few problems with sand inundation
  • 1988-2008 Environmental problems: water shortage, aridification, salinization, etc
  • Urban data from Chenal & Kaufmann (2008)
  • Linking back to palaeoclimate: sea-surface temperature and climate change relationships


  • Student feedback has been collected but not yet collated or analysed, but anecdotal evidence suggests Google Earth is a useful and enjoyable tool to use in a blended learning setting.
  • Google Earth offers a powerful potential tool for investigating the impacts of climate change and local sustainable development issues anywhere on earth.
  • Applications to many subject areas.
  • Further details on

Project Publications

  • Chilcott, M., Haslett, S. K., 2010. Climate change and sustainable development education through the lens of Google Earth. Teaching Earth Sciences, 35 (1), 20-23.
  • Haslett, S. K., 2009. Prior use of Google Earth by undergraduate Geography students. Planet (HEA-GEES), No. 22, 43-47.
  • Haslett, S. K., Savage, N., 2009. The Sands of Time: A Google Earth Approach to Climate Change Education. Newport, University of Wales [].
  • Haslett, S. K., Skellern, A., Chilcott, M., Longman, D., 2010. Climate change education through a blended learning Google Earth exercise. In: S. K. Haslett, D. France, S. Gedye (eds) Pedagogy of Climate Change. HEA-GEES, in press.
  • Further details on

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