In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Digital Earth

  • Introduction
  • General Overview

Environmental Science Digital Earth
Guo Huadong, Zhen Liu, Changlin Wang
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 March 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199363445-0137


Digital Earth is a comprehensive multidisciplinary research area, covering earth science, space science, information science, and computer science and technology. Digital Earth was originally described as a multiresolution, three-dimensional visual representation of Earth that would help humankind take advantage of geo-referenced information on physical and social environments. With more than two decades advancement, Digital Earth technology has been developed to monitor, model, and analyze the Earth with a multidimensional, multiscale, multitemporal, and multilayered information system in terms of various aspects of human societies. Digital Earth also serves as a common platform supporting domestic and international cooperation for global sustainable development, climate change, and disaster mitigation. It has become a new growth point of the social economy and of social welfare. This article gives an overview of how Digital Earth technologies have been developed, and how it has been applied in different domains and at regional/national scales during the last two decades. Through this article, the aim is to provide researchers with a comprehensive instruction in understanding the Digital Earth discipline.

General Overview

The concept of Digital Earth was first coined by former U.S. vice president Al Gore (Gore 1992) and further developed in a well-known speech he delivered at the opening of the California Science Center in 1998, which was published in Gore 1999. Since then Digital Earth has attracted great attention and triggered continuous discussions in Goodchild 1999, Foresman 2008; Craglia, et al. 2012; Guo, et al. 2014; and Guo 2018. With relevant technologies having been developed, cases of Digital Earth’s applications have also blossomed, as indicated in Goodchild 2008. The Digital Earth initiative has sparked many responses globally. In 1999, the first International Symposium on Digital Earth was held in Beijing, China. In 2006, the International Society for Digital Earth (ISDE) was established. To date, twelve international symposia on Digital Earth have been held and eight Digital Earth summits have been convened by the ISDE in fourteen countries attracting nearly ten thousand participants from more than seventy countries worldwide. And three milestone documents, the 1999 and 2009 Beijing Declaration on Digital Earth and the 2019 Florence Declaration on Digital Earth, were released during the symposia. In addition, the society has published two academic journals on topics in Digital Earth research, the International Journal of Digital Earth and the Big Earth Data journal, launched in 2008 and 2017, respectively, and the first scientific book on Digital Earth, namely Manual of Digital Earth (Guo, et al. 2019).

  • Craglia, M., K. de Bie, D. Jackson, et al. 2012. Digital Earth 2020: Towards the vision for the next decade. International Journal of Digital Earth 5.1: 4–21.

    DOI: 10.1080/17538947.2011.638500

    This paper is the outcome of a workshop organized by the International Society for Digital Earth in Beijing in March 2011. The paper identifies the main policy, scientific, and societal drivers for the development of Digital Earth and illustrates the multifaceted nature of a new vision of Digital Earth grounding it with a few examples of potential applications.

  • Foresman, T. W. 2008. Evolution and implementation of the Digital Earth vision, technology and society. International Journal of Digital Earth 1.1: 4–16.

    DOI: 10.1080/17538940701782502

    This paper presents an overview of the historical components, the key players on the international scene, the catalytic technological advances, and the societal response to the growth of the Digital Earth community.

  • Goodchild, M. F. 1999. Implementing Digital Earth: A research agenda. In Towards Digital Earth: Proceedings of the International Symposium on Digital Earth (November 29–December 2, 1999, Beijing, China). Edited by G. Xu and Y. Chen, 21–26. Beijing: Science Press.

    Models of Earth include not only maps but also mathematical models of the processes that modify Earth’s surface. This article gives research issues pertaining to the topics of structure, indexing schemes, data integration, semantic integration, cartographic techniques, visualization, and institutional arrangements.

  • Goodchild, M. F. 2008. The use cases of Digital Earth. International Journal of Digital Earth 1.1: 31–42.

    DOI: 10.1080/17538940701782528

    This paper puts forth a framework that provides a better guide to the future with respect to geobrowsers and Digital Earth than contemporary GIS technology.

  • Gore, A. 1992. Earth in the balance: Ecology and the human spirit. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

    This book presents a global perspective on the environmental crisis facing Earth. The chapters are framed to treat the twin ideas of the threat posed by human civilization to the global environment and the threat to human civilization posed by changes in the global environment.

  • Gore, A. 1999. The Digital Earth: Understanding our planet in the 21st century. Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing 65.5: 528–530.

    This is a formal publication of the famous speech delivered by former US vice president Al Gore. It envisages the new age of spatial information, the Digital Earth.

  • Guo, H. 2018. A project on Big Earth data science engineering. Bulletin of the Chinese Academy of Sciences 33.8: 818–824.

    This paper introduces the characteristics of Big Earth data and analyzes its great potential for development, particularly in regards to the role that Big Earth data can play in transforming Earth science. Within this context, the paper outlines the Project on Big Earth Data Science Engineering (CASEarth) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Strategic Priority Research Program.

  • Guo, H., M. Goodchild, and A. Annoni, eds. 2019. Manual of Digital Earth. Singapore: Springer.

    This monograph is the first scientific book in the Digital Earth research field. It covers the current status and future directions of Digital Earth research and provides a systematic analysis of the theories, methods, and technical systems of Digital Earth as well as a summary of the key achievements to date. It also predicts the likely direction and probable future developments within the discipline.

  • Guo, H., L. Wang, F. Chen, and D. Liang. 2014. Science big data and Digital Earth. Chinese Science Bulletin 59.12: 1047–1054.

    This editorial deals with the development, importance, and impacts of Digital Earth: Big Earth data on human beings.

  • International Society for Digital Earth.

    This is the website of the International Society for Digital Earth, which was founded in Beijing, China, in 2006. ISDE is an international organization principally promoting academic exchange, science and technology innovation, education, and international collaboration with respect to Digital Earth.

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