Geological Society of America salutes creators of transformative technology

October 11, 2010

Boulder, CO, USA - Geological Society of America (GSA) Past President Jean Bahr will award GSA's prestigious President's Medal for 2010 to the founders of Keyhole, Inc., developers of Earth Viewer, which evolved into Google Earth. Bahr will present the award at the GSA Annual Meeting Presidential Address & Awards Ceremony on Saturday, 30 October, 7-9 p.m., at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver.

Keyhole, Inc. founders include: John Hanke, Chikai Ohazama, Mark Aubin, Phil Keslin, and Avi Bar-Zeev. Advisory founders include: Brian McClendon, Michael Jones, Chris Tanner, and Remi Arnaud. Mark Aubin will be accepting the honor on behalf of the group.

What began in 1999 as two guys in a garage, developing a demo for a gaming start-up, quickly became something that literally opened up the world for a newly-connected generation of internet users. Keyhole, Inc., formed as a spin-off from the original gaming venture, developed Earth Viewer with the goal of making satellite and aerial imagery accessible over the internet for education and entertainment. The product was released in 2005 as Google Earth.

Their 3D virtual globe has emerged over the last decade "as a powerful and easy-to-use tool for viewing, tracking, and analyzing planetary (and lunar) features, processes, and events," according to conveners of an upcoming GSA Penrose Conference on Google Earth's collaborative developments in geoscience education and research (to be held at Google headquarters in January 2011).

"Today, with over 700 million unique activations, Google Earth is being used in amazing ways," says Aubin. "the Surui tribe in the Brazilian Amazon use it to help in monitoring their territory for illegal logging. High school students in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost city in the USA, use it to visualize whale shark movements. National Geographic explorer Sylvia Earle uses it to advocate for the preservation of our oceans. The list goes on and on."

Geoscientists use Google Earth to plan field expeditions, post photos and field observations, and create virtual field trips for classes, colleagues and the public.

"Geologic and topographic maps downloaded to Google Earth are easily accessible from mobile devices, and coupled with global positioning systems (GPS), Google Earth layers allow people to keep track not only of their location, but also of what lies beneath. Displays of recent earthquakes, locations of volcanoes, hydrologic features, and historical imagery, facilitate scientific monitoring and public appreciation of the dynamic planet," said Bahr in citing the Keyhole founders for this award.

"New applications for sharing, accessing and displaying remote sensing data are expanding exponentially, and availability of these data has facilitated emergency responses to natural disasters," says Bahr.

The silver President's Medal was established in 2007 to recognize individuals, groups, or entities whose impact has profoundly enhanced the geosciences profession, both through advancing the science and through promoting geoscience in the service of humankind. "The founders of Keyhole, Inc. are most worthy recipients of this honor," said Bahr in selecting these individuals for recognition. "Google Earth has truly been a transformative technology for geoscience research, teaching, and outreach to the public."

"We are honored," says Aubin, about being selected as recipients for this year's President's Medal, and "it is humbling to realize that what we created has become the canvas for others much greater than us to build upon."
Information about the GSA President's Award, including past recipients, is available at

The Geological Society of America, founded in 1888, is a scientific society with more than 22,000 members from academia, government, and industry in more than 97 countries. Through its meetings, publications, and programs, GSA enhances the professional growth of its members and promotes the geosciences in the service of humankind. Headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, GSA encourages cooperative research among earth, life, planetary, and social scientists, fosters public dialogue on geoscience issues, and supports all levels of earth science education.

Geological Society of America

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