Seamless Topographic Maps for Google Earth

Shaded Topographic MosaicI have had many requests over the years to add a USGS topographic Map overlay without the map borders.  This is a huge project and I have finally decided to move forward with it.

You can read more about this project below, or skip right to the store and purchase them.

These maps will be made available in downloadable bundles.  Each Topographic Map Mosaic bundle typically contains 64 7.5-minute series (1:24,000 scale) USGS topographic maps and covers a 1×1 degree area of the United States (about 3,000 to 4,000 square miles).  An installation program is included that will automatically add the maps to Google Earth on your PC (so long as Google Earth is already installed).  Mac users should be able to install the maps using the unzip command in the Terminal application (“unzip N46W123-Setup.exe” for example).  There is also a Mac program call The Unarchiver that might allow you to run the EXE file directly, but I do not have the ability to test it out.  If anyone has any other Mac tips, please post a comment.

The maps have been created using Google Earth Super Overlays, which means the maps will automatically increase in resolution as you zoom in.  You can purchase multiple map bundles and they will join together seamlessly in Google Earth.  The maps are georeferenced so they align with the underlying imagery in Google Earth.  In addition, the 10-meter National Elevation Dataset (NED) has been used to apply hill shading to the maps to enhance the topography.

Shaded Topographic Mosaic

The map bundles range in size from 100 to 600 megabytes, and are priced at $5.00 per bundle, which works out to less than 10 cents per map.   Some of the coastal areas are priced at $1.00 if there are only a few maps in the coverage area.  This method of delivery allows the maps to be used off-line and also allows the maps to be viewed much faster, and in higher resolutions than would be possible streaming the maps over the internet.  You also don’t have to worry about connectivity issues, slow servers, etc.

The first release covers the western United States (West of Longitude -113) and I intend to release map bundles covering the rest of the United States in the coming months.  I have two PCs working 24/7 creating the maps.

 More information about how to order and download the maps can be found on this web page.

A sample map bundle (214 megabytes) covering the area north of San Francisco is available if you want to try one out for free.  In addition, I have made a second map bundle covering the Mt. St. Helens area of Washington (555 megabytes) available for free.

Shaded Topographic Mosaic Shaded Topographic Mosaic


New Zealand Topographic Map

Land Information of New Zealand has made available a great set of 1:50,000 scale Topographic Maps available online. I downloaded all 455 of the maps covering the main island of New Zealand and converted them to a seamless Google Earth overlay.

The maps show roads, placenames, contour lines, elevations points, etc, and make a great tool for planning hiking trips and other outdoor adventures.  Since they are Google Earth overlays, you can also adjust the transparency of the topographic maps to compare the maps with the underlying imagery available from Google Earth.  You can also see the names of features from Google Earth on the maps.

There are two versions of the topographic map overlay available.  The free version is designed to be used online and has highly compressed images to allow for faster loading.  The Pro Version is designed to run from your local computer, does not require an internet connection, and has much higher image quality.

The Pro Version is almost 9 gigabytes.  Make sure you have enough space on your computer and a high speed internet connection before purchasing.

Free Version Pro Version
Internet required No internet required
Lossy compression No image compression
Reduced resolution Same resolution as source
Free $30
Download Purchase

Free Version

Pro Version

Click here to view the legend

The original GeoTIFF files can be downloaded (very slowly) from LINZ.

The maps are Sourced from LINZ and Topo50. Crown Copyright reserved.



MODIS Satellite Gallery

UPDATE 1/16/2011 – Gallery updated to include almost all of the images posted by NASA through the end of 2011.

The MODIS Satellite Gallery collection from the MODIS Rapid Response Project at NASA/GSFC contains about 3,300 satellite images obtained from NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites overlaid onto Google Earth. These satellites capture natural color imagery in amazing detail from all over the Earth.  NASA posts some of the most interesting imagery collected from these satellites several times per week at the MODIS Gallery.  NASA also has a MODIS Image of the Day web page, and a RSS Feed if you want to keep up on the daily postings.  This Google Earth collection contains links to almost all of the MODIS Gallery images posted by NASA from 2003 to 2011.

These satellite images typically show major events occurring in the world that are visible from space.  Dust storms, hurricanes, tropical storms, volcanic eruptions, natural phenomenon, and wildfires are just some of the events captured by the satellites.

One of the shortcomings of the NASA gallery is it lacks a nice user-friendly index for Google Earth. So that’s what I have created for this post. Simply download the KML file from beneath the screenshot and you will get an index of all (well…almost all) the MODIS Gallery images from 2003 through 2011. Each image is represented by a green dot and description of the image, which includes the year. Click on the placemark, then click on the blue hyperlink in the pop-up balloon to load the image into Google Earth. Most of the images are around 1 to 5 megabytes, so it might take them a minute or two to load. If you get a Red X, that probably means the image was too large for your computer to download.

About 10% of the images were not indexed by NASA for Google Earth for various reasons (size of image, wrong projection, etc.), which unfortunately includes all imagery near the north and south poles.  Also, the quality of the image as you see it in Google Earth might vary depending on how much video memory you have available.

I will try to update the index every year or so.

Hurricane Gulf of Mexico

Download With Google Earth


United States National Atlas

The National Atlas of the United States displays several hundred layers of GIS data for the United States.  The data is organized into the following categories.

  • Agriculture (Information about Farms, Livestock, and Crops)
  • Environment (Information about hazardous sites)
  • People (Information about crime rates, economy, food stamps, jobs, mortality rates, population density, etc.)
  • Biology (Information about the distribution of various animal species)
  • Geology (Information about geology, earthquakes, natural disasters, etc)
  • Transportation (Airports, trains and roads)
  • Boundaries (Congressional districts, Counties, Time Zones, Federal Lands, etc)
  • History (Electoral and popular votes for recent presidential races, territorial acquisition)
  • Water (Information about dams, aquifers, surface water, water use, etc.)
  • Climate (Climate statistics, natural hazard events, hurricane information, etc.)
  • Map Reference (Cities and towns, urban areas, etc.)

A detailed description of each layer of data can be found here.

The maps can be viewed in a browser window with MapMaker or with Google Earth by clicking on the “Download With Google Earth” button below.   Unfortunately, it is not possible to display the legends in Google Earth, so you will still need to reference MapMaker to determine what the colors on the map represent, although in most cases, it is obvious without having to look up the legend.


Download With Google Earth

United States National Atlas

United States National Atlas

United States National Atlas


USGS National Map Historic Quadrangle Scanning Project

The USGS has announced a schedule for release of over 100,000 historic topographic map quadrangles covering 32 states by the end of 2011.  This is an amazing resource for anyone interested in studying the history of an area in the United States.

Kansas is the first state in the release schedule and it looks like historic maps for Kansas, Iowa, and perhaps several other states are already available from the USGS Store.  The historic topographic maps include scales ranging from 1:24,000 to 1:250,000 and typically date back to the late 1800s or early 1900s for any given area.

Each map is a single GeoPDF, which is great for consumers, although I would personally prefer GeoTIFFs.  To get the coordinate information to show up on the PDF, you must install the free GeoPDF Plugin for Acrobat, which is a bit of a hassle since you have to register and then add a 37 megabyte plugin to Acrobat.  However, it is great to see that the USGS went through the extra trouble of georeferencing the maps as that makes them much more useful.  The scan quality is very good.  The map I looked at was scanned at 2 meters per pixel with a moderate level of compression.  Although I’m not sure if they are all scanned at that resolution.

The release schedule and more information about this project can be found at the USGS National Map Historic Quadrangle Scanning Project.


90 Meter Global Terrain Map

Last year I created detailed terrain maps of several countries and US states by combining elevation and texture data from several different sources.  Since then, I have had numerous requests to create high resolution terrain maps of other countries and regions. Instead of continuing to create individual custom maps, I have decided to go ahead and release a 90-meter resolution terrain map covering the entire Earth (except for the poles). The resulting map is a 52 gigabyte terrain map of the Earth.  The map has been split into 648 1×1 degree GeoTIFF tiles to make it easier to download a specific region of interest.

I’ve tried to use the best available data with the most relaxed licensing restrictions.   The source data was obtained from the following sources and merged together to create the map.

I’ve also decided to ease my licensing limitation a bit and release the entire 90 Meter Global Terrain Map under the Creative Commons Attribution license.  Please credit the Google Earth Library and provide a hyperlink to with any online reuse or distribution of this map.  In addition, you must include a citation of “ASTER GDEM is a product of METI and NASA” somewhere near the map.  Additional suggested citations and detailed copyright information are included in the readme.txt file that can be found in the folder containing the map tiles.  The credit and citations can go in the end-credits for multimedia presentations.

I have had several people inquire about a more official looking release form to allow them to use the map in publications, television shows, etc.  It shouldn’t be necessary, but if you want something official looking for your files, contact me with a quick note that you need the release form and I will email it to you.

To download the map, first use the index map below to locate the tiles covering your area of interest.



Then download the corresponding TIF file from my Google Docs server. There is also a zip file containing all of the World files (prj/tfw) for use in GIS applications on the Google Docs server.  I know the Google Docs server is not the most convenient method of downloading a large number of the map files, but I need to use the cheapest method of hosting possible to keep my website free.  If anyone would like to mirror these files on FTP server or traditional Web server, please contact me.




Hawaii Aerial Photographs

Digital Orthophoto Quads

In 1976/1977, the USGS completed an aerial photograph survey of the six main islands (Hawaii, Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Kauai) of Hawaii. The aerial photographs were orthorectified and grouped into 127 orthophoto quadrangles. Someone (I’m not sure who) scanned the original paper maps at 400 dpi, and MrSID versions of the maps ended up on the Virtual Terrain website.  I downloaded the MrSID images (which were not georeferenced), did some minor digital retouching, cropped them, and georeferenced them.

The result is a digital collection of all 127 of the quadrangle maps in several formats.

  • Individual Quadrangles – This collection includes 127 individual digital orthophoto quadrangles.  These have been converted to JPG2000 files with minimal compression.  Each image file has associated World files, which will allow them to be viewed in GIS programs.  These can all be downloaded from my Google Docs account.
  • Island Mosaics -In addition, I created a full resolution mosaic of each island.  These have also been saved as JPG2000 files and can be downloaded from my Google Docs account.
  • Google Earth – Lastly, I created a Google Earth overlay version of the mosaics.  To add the overlays to Google Earth, simply click on the button beneath the screenshot below.

Shoreline Aerials

The University of Hawaii Coastal Geology Group has made available a large collection of shoreline aerial photographs that date back to 1949.  They were kind enough to georeference the photographs.  I have converted them to Google Earth layers.  Simply locate the image you wish to view using the index.  Then check the box next to the name of the aerial to enable it.  Note:  you must first disable the 1977 Orthophoto layer to make the Shoreline aerial visible.

As of right now, the Shoreline Aerials are available only for Maui.  I will try to add Oahu and Kauai in the near future.

To the best of my knowledge the original source images, and all subsequent translations, including all work done by myself are public domain.  You should be able to freely redistribute and modify these.  Credit to the Google Earth Library is appreciated, but not necessary.  Enjoy.

Also, don’t forget to check out the Hawaii T-Sheets Google Earth overlays.  These are another great historical resource for the Hawaiian shorelines.

Download With Google Earth


World Cities At Night From Space

The NASA Astronauts have been taking photographs of various world cities at night from the Space Shuttle. These images are a great way to visualize urban growth and transportation networks of cities. They also provide some insight into how cities in different countries develop. Some cities are constructed on a nice grid pattern, others have a central core without multiple transportation rings, and some appear to be completely disorganized.

NASA has put together a feature article displaying some of these images and a description of how they are captured.  Many other similar images can be found by searching the Gateway To Astronaut Photography of Earth.   I have taken several of the images and imported them as overlays in Google Earth.   The image quality is good, but not great, as it looks like the astronauts are using off-the-shelf cameras for this.

The following cities are included in this collection.  If you find any other good nighttime city imagery in the NASA image archives, post a comment and I’ll try to add it.

  • Beijing, China
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Chicago, USA
  • Denver, USA
  • Las Vegas, USA
  • London, England
  • Long Beach, USA
  • Los Angeles, USA
  • Mecca, Saudi Arabia
  • Montreal, Canada
  • San Paulo, Brazil
  • Seoul, South Korea

Download With Google Earth

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