New Google Earth tools let us explore the land use changes around climate stations over time

This past week Google introduced the latest iteration of their popular earth visualization program – Google Earth Version 5.0

In it was something I had been hoping for for months: a way to display historical aerial imagery and thus land use change around a climate monitoring station in an interactive timeline.

The best part: it is easy, and it is free.

for example, here is my first effort, a simple two frame blink comparator showing changes around the USHCN station MMTS sensor at the water treatment plant in Aurora, IL, a suburb of Chicago:


The yellow dot is the location of the USHCN MMTS thermometer, and the white arrows arrows in the more recent view point to some things that have changed around the sensor over a six year period from 1999 to 2005.  You can view the individual larger images also:  Aurora in 1999 and Aurora in 2005

Here is a ground level view of the MMTS at the water plant, looking north:

I spotted three things:

  1. Two large storage tanks were added due west of the sensor
  2. A new addition was put on to the north end of the building nearest the sensor
  3. A roof on a building to the NW across the road was changed

There may be more. Now with the help of the KML put together by volunteers Gary Boden and Barry Wise, we can not only pinpoint the locations of the USHCN stations, we can watch what has changed around them from localized scales of a few hundred feet to citywide scales depicting urban growth. From Google Earth’s feature page,  here is how it works:

Viewing Historical Imagery

By default, Google Earth displays most up-to-date imagery available. You can view historical imagery so that you can see how places have changed over time.

1946 San Francisco

San Francisco in 1946

To access historical imagery, do one of the following:

  • Click View > Historical Imagery
  • Click the Clock icon Clock icon in the toolbar above the 3D viewer.

Time Slider

Features of the time slider include:

  1. Click this to play an animation of a sequence. This works best if you move the range marker to define a time range smaller than the whole set. Click the adjacent buttons to step forward or back.
  2. Drag the range marker to the right or left to re-define the time range of data displayed.
  3. Click this to set options for the time slider.
  4. Zoom in or out to shorten or lengthen the date range covered by your timeline. This allows you to more easily see the different imagery that’s available within a shorter or longer period of time. Notice that, as you zoom in or out, the Start and End dates on the timeline change.
  5. Drag this to move the time range earlier or later.

The small vertical lines on the timeline indicate the dates of different imagery available for your location. Notice that the slider is automatically positioned at the far right of the timeline, showing that you are viewing more recent satellite imagery. Move back or forward in time by doing the following:

  • Click the Forward or Back buttons above the slider.
  • Drag the slider along the timeline. Note that regardless of where you release your mouse on the timeline, the slider automatically moves to the closest date for which imagery is available.

To try out his new feature with USHCN stations you’ll need two things:

Google Earth 5.0 which you can download here:

I welcome any submissions of interesting discoveries by WUWT readers.

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February 8, 2009 4:19 pm

The retention pond south of the site increase in level. The parking area north of the sensor increases and an on ramp was added. Neat! Takes forever to load, but neat.

February 8, 2009 4:47 pm

You missed one important thing…. the number of cars, trucks on the hwy, streets, many more now than before!
Nice work

February 8, 2009 4:54 pm

Was the parking area adjacent to the sensor paved in 1999? I cannot tell.

Ron de Haan
February 8, 2009 5:10 pm

This is a wonderful development.
It’s now should be possible to evaluate and produce an up to date digital catalog of the weather stations from behind your desk?
Just distribute the station coordinates data among your readers.
When every reader works its way through 10 or 20 stations, copies the Google Earth data according a fixed protocol into a PDF file, you will have your catalog ready in no time.
Is this the way to go Anthony?
REPLY: Yes, see also for ground survey instructions, and also the next story. – Anthony

February 8, 2009 6:04 pm

Great stuff, Anthony. BTW, our local (Tampa) Fox chief meteorologist, Paul Dellegatto, has really spread the word about the ASOS set-up at Tampa International Airport (KTPA) over the past few weeks. He’s used Google™ Earth® images during his broadcasts to show the horrible location of the site. (As you can see from the map in the link, it’s jammed in between the SE corner of RWY 36L & the airport’s ever-expanding interchange.) He’s done his best to let the public know that the “official” temperature readings for the Tampa area have really been screwed up, especially during the last couple of hard freeze events over the last month or so. (The “official” temperature is consistently 5-10°F above the readings around the rest of the region. There’s nothing like siting your official thermometer within a few hundred feet of mangroves and beside a large drainage canal.)
Keep up the great work. It’s not going unnoticed and The Usual Suspects™ are really starting to get shrill in response to being exposed as the [snip], sloppy “scientists” and/or Socialists that they are. (Take your pick of whichever adjective you wish to apply to the various players out there. There are plenty of each and some who fit into all three categories.)

Mary Hinge
February 9, 2009 1:35 am

Great work Anthony. Good to see the post material getting back on track!

Neil Jones
February 9, 2009 1:59 am

B.C. (18:04:40)
“sloppy “scientists” and/or Socialists”
As a psychologist and political “scientist” (Politics the study of influence and control, it distribution and manipulation in human relations) there is strong evidence to suggest these people are seeking to re-establish a medieval/feudalistic form of government with a self appointed oligarchy directing society toward a shard ideal. (I understand that the 14th century European mainland is the rough model they seek to emulate – alla Gramsci’s writing). So “getting technical” they are Feudalists.
It all fits when you think about it; a mixture of Alchemy, Astrology and Noblesse Oblige. That’s AlaGorical to a tee.

Carl XVI Gustav
February 9, 2009 2:51 am

Anthony, you should move to Birmingham (UK, not Alabama), where they have banished apostrophes altogether.
“it’s easy and its’ free” indeed. I hope your acceptance speech for my Nobel award will be more literate!
REPLY: Punctuation was always my worst subject. Still is. 😉

February 9, 2009 2:51 am

Unfortunately, installing Google Earth 5 also installed Chrome, yet another browser that I don’t want, and did so without my consent and without informing me. I immediately uninstalled it, but beware.
I’ve had some fun over the last few years trying to identify the dates the images were shot, and by flipping through my local area I can now see that I was pretty darn close. What a great toy! Actually, I was originally paying a monthly subscription for it before Google bought it and made it free.
Interestingly, or not, if you check the July 2002 image at Calgary International Airport, you can see Air Force One, and 3 of the Marine One helicopters, as well as Putin’s Aeroflot plane and the Japanese 747s. Anyone know why they were there? (I do, I’m wondering if anyone else does) I was out there taking pictures, actually.
These are great resources, all, and can really cut down on many types of personal presence requirements, but NOT ALL… as we all know. Unfortunately, these same tools expose areas to prying eyes that might be detrimental.

February 9, 2009 3:32 am

ot but interesting
Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister Sammy Wilson has blocked a government advertisement campaign on climate change

February 9, 2009 4:10 am

OT, but Sammy Wilson made the news on the BBC:

February 9, 2009 4:29 am

Cool !!
I live in Aurora !!

February 9, 2009 5:12 am

I think Joe and Suzy Citizen don’t appreciate the temperature impacts when they see the 2nd picture. The 1st picture is better as are the ones with grills and asphalt.
They think that these changes are probably extremely small. What they don’t realize is that these impacts are as much as an order of magnitude of the change in Global temperature over the last 100 years that has the Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warmers (Now Climate Changers) so worried.

February 9, 2009 5:47 am

One thought that came to me was that if the station surveyor doesn’t have a gps, then providing location information via a street address or relationship to an intersection or other landmark would be extremely helpful in locating the site via GE. The Lat/Long could then be derived from Google Earth.

Bruce Foutch
February 9, 2009 7:09 am

Off topic, but to good to miss:
“Last year, an anxious, depressed 17-year-old boy was admitted to the psychiatric unit at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. He was refusing to drink water. Worried about drought related to climate change, the young man was convinced that if he drank, millions of people would die. The Australian doctors wrote the case up as the first known instance of “climate change delusion”.”
So now the psychiatrists have found a way to line their pockets by “treating” climate change phobias. OMG!!!

February 9, 2009 7:24 am

I’m trying to locate a weather station in the UK.
It’s an aws located in Durham City.
Met Office gives location as 4267E 5415N.
Now anywhere east up here is in the North Sea or mainland Europe. Any clues how to interpret this data?

Ed Scott
February 9, 2009 7:56 am

Climate Science: Is it currently designed to answer questions?1
Richard S. Lindzen
Program in Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
November 29, 2008
For a variety of inter-related cultural, organizational, and political reasons, progress in climate science and the actual solution of scientific problems in this field have moved at a much slower rate than would normally be possible. Not all these factors are unique to climate science, but the heavy influence of politics has served to amplify the role of the other factors. By cultural factors, I primarily refer to the change in the scientific paradigm from a dialectic opposition between theory and observation to an emphasis on simulation and observational programs. The latter serves to almost eliminate the dialectical focus of the former. Whereas the former had the potential for convergence, the latter is much less effective. The institutional factor has many components. One is the inordinate growth of administration in universities and the consequent increase in importance of grant overhead. This leads to an emphasis on large programs that never end. Another is the hierarchical nature of formal scientific organizations whereby a small executive council can speak on behalf of thousands of scientists as well as govern the distribution of ‘carrots and sticks’ whereby reputations are made and broken. The above factors are all amplified by the need for government funding. When an issue becomes a vital part of a political agenda, as is the case with climate, then the politically desired position becomes a goal rather than a consequence of scientific research. This paper will deal with the origin of the cultural changes and with specific examples of the operation and interaction of these factors. In particular, we will show how political bodies act to control scientific institutions, how scientists adjust both data and even theory to accommodate politically correct positions, and how opposition to these positions is disposed of.

February 9, 2009 8:27 am

This is what I got for the Durham station
Lat: N 54 ° 47 ‘ 25 ”
Lon: W 1 ° 31 ‘ 44 ”

Ed Scott
February 9, 2009 8:58 am

Dr. Lindzen describes, in detail, the hi-jacking and corruption of the science of climatology and all science in general, in his essay at
The entirety of the essay is quotable. Some sections of the pdf are out of sequence in the copy which I have down-loaded. Here is a notable excerpt from the essay:
Environmental Media Services (a project of Fenton Communications, a large public relations firm serving left wing and environmental causes; they are responsible for the alar scare as well as Cindy Sheehan’s anti-war campaign.) created a website,, as an ‘authoritative’ source for the ‘truth’ about climate. This time, real scientists who were also environmental activists, were recruited to organize this web site and ‘discredit’ any science or scientist that questioned catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. The web site serves primarily as a support group for believers in catastrophe, constantly reassuring them that there is no reason to reduce their worrying. Of course, even the above represent potentially unnecessary complexity compared to the longstanding technique of simply publicly claiming that all scientists agree with whatever catastrophe is being promoted. Newsweek already made such a claim in 1988. Such a claim serves at least two purposes. First, the bulk of the educated public is unable to follow scientific arguments; ‘knowing’ that all scientists agree relieves them of any need to do so. Second, such a claim serves as a warning to scientists that the topic at issue is a bit of a minefield that they would do well to avoid.

bill p
February 9, 2009 9:02 am

Credit to you for taking advantage of all the great new technologies. Thanks, also, to you and Google for not littering the page with pop-ups.

February 9, 2009 9:28 am

Lee Kington (08:27:41) :
This is what I got for the Durham station
Lat: N 54 ° 47 ‘ 25 ”
Lon: W 1 ° 31 ‘ 44 ”
Doesn’t seem to be the one. That’s in Carrsville, Durham & the listing is for Belmont, Durham. That lat/long seems to be in someones back garden within 100′ of the A1M. It’s also in the lee of the house for NW which is the strongest recorded wind.
Belmont is across the other side of the A1M & North a bit of the A690.
That would put it in what I know to be a green field, there’s nothing over there even if the google satellite pictures are old.
I’m waiting for word back from the met office. They had it as some long E which as I said, puts it in the North sea. They also have it at 331’6″ not 253′.
If it is on Belmont, that height (331’6″) may be correct.

david ashton
February 9, 2009 9:34 am

Dave E. You may find that the numbers correspond to the local UK Ordinance Survey map references.

February 9, 2009 9:35 am

Further to that Durham AWS.
The records go back to 1880 & appear to be continuous. A quick glance shows only one month missing, though it was a very quick look through so I may have missed something.
If there have been no station moves it could be useful perhaps.

AJ Abrams
February 9, 2009 10:25 am

I don’t have a direct email to the good Mr. Watts, but I think a reposting of Roger’s good work today about ocean heat content and falsification of GCM’s simply has to be discussed on this site. This is …well….huge.
Many thanks

February 9, 2009 10:47 am

Google Earth really is an all round wonderful tool.

Ellie in Belfast
February 9, 2009 11:13 am

Great stuff.
Off topic, but a few people are a wee bit upset in N. Ireland because our Environment Minister won’t allow UK government adverts that are ‘climate change propaganda’ to be aired here – he doesn’t believe CO2 is the cause of climate change.
The BBC is going mad over this – and showing as much of the adver as they can as part of the news item.

M White
February 9, 2009 11:19 am

” Northern Ireland minister’s decision to block a government advertisement campaign on climate change has led to a call for his removal from office. ”

February 9, 2009 11:59 am

The Fox River in the aerial photos is littered with low head dams that alter the air temperature for several hundred yards downstream.
The good news is that they seem to have placed this station a couple of miles either way from two of these dams. The bad news is that the dams might have offset the heat bubble produced by the water plant.

February 9, 2009 12:01 pm

The lat/long given me by the met office is 54.77 -1.58 which is woodland. 🙁
I’ve asked for a more accurate lat/long but been looking in the nearby cathedral grounds. (54.772494,-1.576581) that’s roughly the centre of the cathedral grounds.

February 9, 2009 12:01 pm

Oh, and by the way, good work Anthony. Wayne and Garth would be proud.

Ellie in Belfast
February 9, 2009 12:41 pm

Cool tool. On topic this time it shouldn’t be hard to find information on the history of sites such as water works and wastewater works. This one (water works) has a history page on the public works page of the city website:
Much of a waterworks’ operation will be covered to protect the quality of the water etc, so sensor proximity to buildings, parking lots and air vents are an obvious concern. For wastewater sites proximity to large volumes of above or below ambient temperature water could be a problem.
As well as photos, site history could be looked up in registers of the population served by the works and there is a formula for the wastewater per head of population (the population equivalent). For wastewater the rule of thumb is (UK at least) is 200 litres per person per day. It could make quite a difference to a sensor located near (downwind of) a tank treating 40,000 gallons a day, through with air is being pumped to aerate the tank. Actual effect could also depend on treatment processes on the site.
Happy to try to find and interpret data on individual works if this would help.

Dell Hunt, Jackson, Michigan
February 9, 2009 12:41 pm

Jan 09 US temps are out.
The average temperature in January 2009 was 31.2 F. This was 0.4 F warmer than the 1901-2000 (20th century) average, the 59th warmest January in 115 years.
US Map
It confirms what we have known for a while:
WAS REALLY COLD here in Michigan!

Mr Green Genes
February 9, 2009 12:42 pm

I know it’s carrying on being off topic and I apologise but my eye was drawn to these paragraphs:-
‘Friends of the Earth NI director John Woods said: “It’s bad enough that we have an environment minister who doesn’t accept that human activity is driving climate change, but trying to block advice to people on how they can help tackle it is completely irresponsible.
“The reality is that the overwhelming majority of climate scientists believe that our activities are causing global warming and that urgent action is needed to tackle it.” ‘
You can only be a government minister if you agree with the new religion.

February 9, 2009 12:50 pm

I’ve also looked for the AWS in HMP grounds on Green Street east of the Cathedral but frankly at 1″ to 50′ it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Given the age of the historic record, my money’s on the cathedral grounds.
I’ll try to visit on Wednesday & take photos if they’ll let me.
I have a feeling it will be either in the old gardens at the south end of the cathedral grounds or on the green to the west of the cathedral.
There never used to be any problems taking photos in the grounds, just hope the policy’s not changed.

BobW in NC
February 9, 2009 1:46 pm

This news item is completely OT (apologies!), but I didn’t know where else to put it. Moderator – obviously your choice. I always like to try to point out good news – like anyone substantive in a political position who says that AGW is nonsense. In this case Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister, Sammy Wilson, is making interesting noises.
From an AP article in which he is reported to refuse the British government to run ads on climate change, which Mr. Wilson describes as “…insideous propaganda.”

February 9, 2009 1:47 pm

Think I’ve found the Durham AWS at Belasis observatory here > 54.768156, -1.585709
Someone mind having a look? I think that will be the AWS in the centre of the map.

February 9, 2009 2:10 pm

The lat/long I posted was pretty close.
This is the web site
That’s the obersvatory building on the page there. no sign of the AWS yet.

February 9, 2009 2:18 pm

This is what I intend asking Durham University.
“If at all possible, I would like to look at & survey your AWS at the Bellasis Observatory for
This would involve taking photographs of the AWS, & it’s surroundings & taking measurements from buildings, hedgerows, tarmac & other possible confounders.
From Google maps, it doesn’t look bad at all, but first hand observation is always best”
Any suggestions before I post?

Barry Foster
February 9, 2009 2:23 pm

Off topic: An island of sanity in a sea of stupidity

February 9, 2009 2:59 pm

Mr Green Genes (12:42:08) : You can only be a government minister if you agree with the new religion.
However, fervent belief fosters the habit of ignoring uncomfortable data and doubtful assumptions. It seems, as Bertrand Russell wrote, “What men want is not knowledge but certainty.” Because scientific knowledge is necessarily provisional, certainty can only be had through belief. While that remains so, discovery will continue to confound expectations.

February 9, 2009 3:31 pm

Sammy Wilson will of course be asked to resign.
He may have the last laugh in 20 to 30 years, but his is a lone voice in politics.

Chris Knight
February 9, 2009 11:26 pm

“That’s the obersvatory building on the page there. no sign of the AWS yet.”
What’s that pole above the main gable of the building, fitted with windvane, anemometer, temperature sensor etc?
The observatory location is about 200m NW of the pointer for the postcode DH1 3RR on google maps. 54°46’05.57″N 1°35’09.94″W 331ft

February 10, 2009 8:23 am

I could be wrong, but it appears to me that there is a blank area in the middle of New Hampshire, and that the weather records of Concord, New Hampshire were not used. Do you know why certain stations are chosen, and others excluded?
The weather records of Concord are of interest to me because they go all the way back to 1869, which makes it one of the earliest stations. Also, if you look at the record high temperatures for particular dates in January and February, a surprising number of the record highs date from the period between 1869 and 1885.
Of course, this may be due to the fact the Concord station was moved at some point in the late 1800’s, but I have always wondered if the record mid-winter highs from the 1870’s and 1880’s was evidence of an earlier warm cycle, much like the one in the 1930’s.
Record highs from the 1870’s and 1880’s does throw a wrench in the idea that recent warmth was “unprecedented.” I confess I am a suspicious fellow, and I also wondered if record highs from the 1870’s and 1880’s might be a reason why Concord, New Hampshire was not included.
Am I correct to assume Concord, New Hampshire is not one of the stations you are looking at?
REPLY: Stations with long uninterrupted records are the ones that were chosen to be in USHCN. Concord, NH didn’t qualify with record only for the airport back to 1933. It is now an ASOS station. The other concord station was Concord river bridge, now closed. The newspaper there probably has better weather records. – Anthony

February 10, 2009 9:11 am

Chris Knight (23:26:33) :
“That’s the obersvatory building on the page there. no sign of the AWS yet.”
What’s that pole above the main gable of the building, fitted with windvane, anemometer, temperature sensor etc?
Windvane & anemometer I see fine but not the temp sensor.
The grounds are big enough for it to be well placed.
I thought I had it located in the grounds but I’m going over tomorrow to see if I can photograph the AWS which is probably pole mounted.

February 10, 2009 9:14 am

I was discussing Bellasis Observatory with a friend today & he tells me there’s a new housing estate in the area too.
I’ll check that out as well.

February 10, 2009 11:00 am

Question: How would that new roof aross the road impact the readings? It’s quite distance away.

February 10, 2009 1:16 pm

OT but breaking news:
Maine breaks State record low which had held since 1925.

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