GIS For Biologists: Tip #9 – How To Add A Google Earth Or Bing Maps Image To A GIS Project

15 May

This video is the ninth in a series of helpful hints and handy tips for biologists who want to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in their research. It demonstrates how to add an image from Google Earth or Bing maps to a GIS project using QGIS, the leading freely available open source GIS software. For those working in the commercial ArcGIS software package, a similar end can be achieved by adding the World Imagery basemap from ESRI to a GIS project.

If you are wondering why you would want to add such images to a GIS project, they open up some very interesting and useful possibilities. Firstly, and most basically, they provide a nice background to help put any data you are displaying in your GIS project in a wider context. For example, you can see areas of woodland, or lakes, or see their proximity to other features, such as rivers, houses and roads.

Secondly, and this is where things get interesting, once you have such images in your GIS project, you can create new data layers and trace features from the image into them. Through this process, you can create high-resolution data layers of features within your study area, such as the above mentioned areas of woodland and lakes. In fact, this is one of the quickest and best ways to generate high-resolution data layers of features in your local environment, especially for small study areas and parts of the world where there are few sources of suitable existing data layers.

While this video only covers the adding of Google Earth and Bing maps images to your GIS project in QGIS, you can find information on how to make new data layers here.  Similarly, the QGIS OpenLayers Plugin, which is used to import these images, can also be used to import images from OpenStreetMap, MapQuest and other potential source of GIS data that are likely to be useful to biologists, so it is really useful to know how to use this plugin.

If you have any questions or queries about this video, feel free to comment on this post and I’ll do my best to answer them.


Dr Colin D. MacLeod,
Founder, GIS In Ecology



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