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Online Mapping Tools to Learn

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

When I was growing up and in school, there were only a small number of accurate maps to look at. Thomas Guides, MapQuest, and actual Atlas Maps reigned.

Technology has made incredible leaps and strides in the last 5 years, let alone the last 10 or 20 though. Even just 10 years ago, the idea of accurate, up-to-date maps of weather systems, soil conditions, geological features, ocean currents, and animal migrations were few and far between.

Now though, these interactive maps abound with valuable information and can save serious time and money. Not even two full decades ago, some of this information would have taken entire survey teams, architecture firms, engineers, and drafters and programmers to complete. Since then, in my work and many other fields, this data has become incredibly detailed and available.

from Laserfiche records to pdfs of geology handbooks and now to extremely accurate online maps. I often research and download publicly available information that can seriously help save tons of time and money.

In the tools included below, you can look up all kinds of information and add it as 'layers' to show you what you want to know.

Many of these tools are focused on actual layers of the landscape. For instance, some of these tools allow you to look at deep ocean currents or high atmosphere air currents and everywhere in between at a reasonable interval.


This is one of the most interesting ways to view weather patterns in your area. In this tool you can customize the time pattern, the later of the atmosphere or ocean, and the type of information you want to see, and it will show you an active map of that information.

with this tool, the earth can be seen with environmental overlays that allow for more advanced data science. With information and visualization such as this, the earth can be observed very closely from all angles.


Another amazing tool that can be edited and can even give you downloadable information that can be used professionally is The National Map, which uses USGS information.

This advanced Mapping tool is actually pretty easy to use! Just select the "add data" -the one that's a little map with a plus symbol in the middle of the green bar. Then select the check boxes of data that you want.

Be aware, this tool just adds one layer at a time clearly. Some overlays can be made using different types of data like elevation and imagery.

This application is amazingly useful. There are so many applications for the data layers that are available for free with the USGS. By learning a little about these information sources, you can learn a TON about your own neighborhood and what the landscape is like around you.


In this last tool, the NRCS Soil Survey Web Mapping Tool, you can highlight an "area of interest" and then download accurate soil type maps and information from that area.

Go to the web survey mapper, on the left, look for quick navigation and then add an address to search for.

Once the tool loads the address and the area around it, select the AOI tool to create a selected area of interest by clicking and dragging a box. Seen below is Mariposa Grove in Yosemite Valley.

Once the area of interest has been identified, click the next tab at the top "Soil Map" to see what the soils in the area look like!

Seen here is Yosemite Valley in a soil map!

In the soil mapper, you can learn a ton about different soil and geological formations and types.

Tons of the information that can be obtained for free with these tools would have cost thousands to obtain just a few years ago. These technologies are fascinating, and they have so much potential and practical utility. I hope that you can learn something from them too!

Thanks for reading!

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