Are there any known hacks to get subsurface data into Google Earth?

Sub-ocean-surface works with the release of Google Ocean, but you cannot go below the sea floor.

The other major limitations of Google Earth (no vertical data, single placemark balloon) have hacks to get around them (thin buildings, custom icons). I'm hoping someone has a subsurface hack.


Possible approaches might be

  • Find the default image and replace it with a transparent PNG
  • Capture the network requests to download tiles and respond with transparent PNGs
  • Convince GE to set the Level of Detail (LOD) for the primary layer to some negative or infinite value.

On OS X, I think the following folder/code looks promising:

cd Google Earth.app/Contents/MacOS/shaders
$ ls atmosphere_ground_sun_off*

Those files appear to contain assembly code instructions to the graphics card, and there is mention of "groundTexture", "groundRayleighMap", and other possible hack-able things.


3 Answers 3


I don't think this is possible right now. Your data can be set to subsurface coordinates but you won't be able to view it through the current terrain surface (and AFAIK, that goes for GE Free, Pro and EC)

fwiw, this has been discussed on the GE forums before, maybe it will eventually make it into the product

  • I don't think it is officially supported, but that doesn't mean it isn't possible...
    – mankoff
    Commented Aug 31, 2010 at 18:30
  • afaik, it's not possible
    – bFlood
    Commented Aug 31, 2010 at 18:37
  • Question edited to provide more ideas of how to go about this...
    – mankoff
    Commented Aug 31, 2010 at 18:51
  • @mankoff - GE doesn't use tiles, it uses a proprietary file format for the imagery/terrain data. also, intercepting requests would be a non-KML workaround and thus would be difficult for most GE users to get installed. finally, those pixel shaders are for atmospheric effects (sun, rain etc) fwiw, I would really like to see this support too and have been told by Google they would consider it in the future (I'm sure they would love to have it as well)
    – bFlood
    Commented Sep 1, 2010 at 11:02

This isn't sub-surface due to the GE restriction but a workaround - it does work well once inside the tomb.

Tutankhamon's tomb 3D

Google Earth Plugin required


in order to get the subsurface implemented into Google Earth it needs to be suggested and voted up well. http://earth.google.com/support/bin/static.py?hl=en&page=suggestions.cs&rd=1

  • Meh. It is fairly easy to add a fake "ground" at some level, say 1000 m, and then to build the subterranean scene below that and above 0, but I'm looking for more 'real' final result. I'd rather hack the GE application than the data itself.
    – mankoff
    Commented Aug 31, 2010 at 21:40
  • 3
    @mankoff you're likely better off hacking something like NASA WorldWind or OSSIM Planet. Google Earth is proprietary (and possibly subject to reverse-engineering restrictions depending on where you live) and is becoming less programmable over time... the COM interface is going away after 5.2. googlegeodevelopers.blogspot.com/2010/08/…
    – JasonBirch
    Commented Sep 1, 2010 at 5:24
  • I agree with Jason. Though you might be lucky in GE6, it depends if you can wait.
    – Mapperz
    Commented Sep 1, 2010 at 16:15

Here are a few animations of examples of subsurface in Google Earth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeYyJIXOo6Y and: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rV2EtnmlsBQ

Links to the models (Google Earth) and Cesium are in the comments section.

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