Virtual Globes: An Overview of Their History, Uses, and Future Challenges



The fusion of the World Wide Web and spatial technologies has led to the emergence of a new and evolving geospatial Web. Multiple virtual globes, or geobrowsers such as Google Earth and National Aeronautics and Space Administration's World Wind, have emerged and are positioned to proceed as the gateway to the geospatial Web. Virtual globes are presently used in such areas as education, scientific research and disaster response. Online discussions and conference presentations highlight the uses to which virtual globes may be put, but the peer-reviewed literature still contains relatively few examples of these applications. Technical advances, data availability and end-user expectations are driving the rapid development of virtual globes, making this an ideal time to explore the uses to which virtual globes can be put, ways to identify the challenges involved in their use, and highlight potential pitfalls and opportunities.