A New App that Tells You Everything About the Earth Below You

He imagined a guide to show airplane passengers exactly what they are seeing below.

You are in the middle of the air, on a flight across an expanse of terrain, looking out the window. You tap the “my journey” button on your setback screen and stare at the map, of all the little towns and rivers and mountain ranges passing below you. If you are the kind of person who foregoes the back-to-back episodes of Top Chef and complimentary game of Bejeweled to marvel at the topography below, there is a new app for you.

Flyover Country is a National Science Foundation funded offline mobile app for geoscience outreach and data discovery. “The app analyzes a given flight path and caches relevant map data and points of interest (POI), and displays these data during the flight, without in flight Wi-Fi,” describes its website. It “exposes interactive geologic maps from, fossil localities from and, core sample localities from, Wikipedia articles, offline base maps, and the user’s current GPS determined location, altitude, speed, and heading.”

The app began with an idea by Shane Loeffler who was returning home to Minnesota, flying over Newfoundland from visiting family in the UK. “I was looking down from an airplane window and seeing this huge landscape and these geological features, and [wondering about] the landscape I was flying over,” he told Smithsonian Magazine.

He imagined a guide to show airplane passengers exactly what they are seeing below. He got a grant from the National Science Foundation and now it is available for free download.

Sitting in your window seat, you can find out about terrain, whether they are gorges or glaciers, or man-made sites, like farmland or canals, and read Wikipedia articles about them at the same time. You can discover where fossils were found, find out about dormant volcanoes, learn the location of a surprisingly large fault line.

“The way Shane put it, the airplane seat is sort of a planetarium for the Earth,” Amy Myrbo, a geologist at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and one of Loeffler’s co-developers, told Smithsonian Magazine. “It’s a great way to inspire people to learn about the sciences.”

The app is also useful for earthbound activities like hiking or a road trip.


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