Google Earth Comes Of Age

 On the road…again!!!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek


Google Earth Comes Of Age


Storytelling skills evolve with the storyteller. Not that the story changes, if the storyteller is honest and sincere, but the details that were forgotten or unavailable the first few times around finally get included to the satisfaction of the storyteller. Some of the most satisfactory episodes of storytelling by the peripatetic Footloose Forester have been based on adventures that have been embellished with geospatial evidence to demonstrate just where and when certain events took place.  Google Earth and its numerous upgrades over the years has been a powerful tool in his personal portfolio of stories to illustrate the places, and as the stories flesh out the events that took place there.


Previous chronicles that mentioned Google Earth as a storytelling tool and visual way to share information like pointing to a car in a driveway by zooming in from space with satellite photos, also urged readers to use spatial references like geographic coordinates to help tell and share stories with others.  These days, the technology is better than ever.  The 2017 version of Google Earth is even better than expected, with a handy toggle to alternate scenes with 2-D and 3-D perspectives. And thanks to Google Earth for waiving their erstwhile copyright rules late in 2015, we are encouraged to share Google satellite photos and maps with others.  Serious storytellers are bound to become better tellers of tales when pictures in stories are part of the finished products.


With the aid of computer-based maps and Google Earth precision in locating objects on the ground with high-resolution images, time and distance are no longer limiting factors in seeing and understanding more about geospatial scenarios. And flying to any destination with the embedded flight simulator in Google Earth makes the journey back in time and in virtual space a practical demonstration of those scenarios.  The places on the satellite photos are real.  We merely become photo interpreters of those scenes.


The Footloose Forester had often wondered what developed in the remote watersheds where he worked as an ecological researcher during the development phases of reservoir construction projects in various places. Just this very day, he discovered major changes in the landscape in a remote area in Venezuela that he was not aware had taken place since 1982. Before-after time lapse satellite photography allowed him to revisit the Rio Caparo basin of the Cordillera Oriental in the southern part of the country, due south of Lake Maracaibo, where he participated in mapping the watershed in the pre-construction phase of reservoir impoundment.


Back in 1982, we researchers traveled by dugout canoe to the upper watershed beyond where the present day La Vueltosa Dam holds back Rio Caparo in Merida State.  The river was swift and treacherous during the rainy season but slowed so considerably during the dry season that at some places we had to get out of the canoe and push it beyond a few shallow places.



Proposed site of La Vueltosa Dam in 1982

Between 1982 and 2001, preliminary dam construction work took place but there was no appreciable change in the overall landscape upstream because the filling of the reservoir behind the dam had not yet taken place.  Then between 2001-2002, appreciable filling of the reservoir began to change the landscape of the watershed so dramatically that the changes were easy to see on Google Earth satellite photos. The suite of photographic evidence that focuses on the dam site and vicinity dates from 1969 and has been archived for convenient comparisons of changes.



By 2002  the Vueltosa Dam had impounded the Rio Caparo

These days the impounded  Rio Caparo is so wide and so deep that it backed up and eventually drowned the small village of Santa Maria de Caparo.  Thanks to geospatial referencing, archaeologists can locate the site of the former village at Latitude 7°46’01. 43” N and Longitude 71°28’00.13” W.  It is now under water.

The photo showing the Embalse La Vueltosa and stricture point where the dam was constructed can be seen in three dimensions in the 2017 version of Google Earth at Latitude 7° 45’ 05.03” N and Longitude 71°27’53.72 W.  At ground level, the hard rock structure of the terrain on the west flank obviates its choice as the site of the dam.




Vueltosa and Rio Caparo Watershed in 2016

Among his favourite work sites and, by implication, some of his fondest memories were thousands of miles apart in terms of geography but closely linked in terms of photographic retrieval techniques built into computer programs. Only after 25 years did he first learn that the La Vueltosa dam in Venezuela (at N7◦ 45′ 6.14″ and W71◦ 27′ 55.45″) had been constructed as planned; but it was not until 2017 that he came to realise how big the reservoir had become.


Because of the historical value of using before-after comparisons to evaluate changes in land use and alterations in the landscape, archived chronicles facilitate making comparisons of end-stage results of river impoundment for the purposes of creating reservoirs.  

Richard and LaNay McGoffin
It's Not Rocket Science

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