EarthViewer app from HHMI

earthviewerMy dad was a map-reader. We could spend hours browsing through an atlas or USGS topographic maps. Whenever a conversation centered on a particular location, his response was “Let’s get out the map!” One of the chief roles in family outings was that of navigator with a road map (this was before the age of GPS devices in the car).

As they say, nuts don’t fall far from the tree, so I’m a map nut, too. Even though I have a GPS, I usually have a road map open, too. The map wall was one of the centers in my middle school classroom. As we studied biomes, my students would annotate the maps with sticky notes and push pins for all to see.

So I was excited when I saw a press release from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) about a new resource:

Have you ever wanted to go back in time to see what the Earth looked like 400 million years ago? You can with the EarthViewer, a free, interactive app designed for the iPad, that lets users explore the Earth’s history with the touch of a finger by scrolling through 4.5 billion years of geological evolution. The app allows students to see continents grow and shift as they scroll through billions of years – from molten mass to snowball Earth. Students can also explore changes in the Earth’s atmospheric composition, temperature, biodiversity, day length, and solar luminosity over its entire development. The app, developed by HHMI’s BioInteractive team, tracks the planet’s continental shifts, compares changes in climate as far back as the planet’s origin, and explores the Earth’s biodiversity over the last 540 million years. It combines visual analysis with hard data, and helps students make connections between geological and biological change.

As a SciLinks webwatcher and reviewer, I have a great deal of respect for the science education resources from HHMI. (If you’re unfamiliar with their virtual labs, interactives, and animations, take a few minutes to browse and bookmark the HHMI site.) So I downloaded the app and explored for a while. The centerpiece is a virtual globe with a timeline on the left to scroll through time and options to view data charts, such as temperature or O2 and CO2 levels. For example, I centered the view over the north and south poles and over my hometown and looked at the mean temperature differences for the past 50 years. Seeing the change over time was stunning!

The “info” button has a brief tutorial showing some of the capabilities, and the HHMI EarthViewer website has additional resources and ideas. I suspect that students would catch on quickly, given a chance to explore. You can also Like this on Facebook to get updates and suggestions from other users.

I wish my dad were still with us – he would like this too!

Download the HHMI EarthViewer app from the App Store.

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