Virtual Globe

A 3D globe viewer with elevations, satellite and aerial images, maps and 3D features.

This is a client-server application for displaying very large (=global scale) terrain models. The terrain database is stored on a server, and the client program only fetches the data required for generating an image on your screen with the wanted resolution. As you moves around the program loads and throws out data as needed.

The Virtual Globe requires Java 1.5 or better installed on your computer, testing for Java:

Try the Viewpoints page to start the Globe and jump directly to exciting viewpoints!

Global land terrain with Landsat images

This demo uses elevation data from the SRTM project in the parts of the world where they are available. In non-SRTM areas SRTM30, GLOBE and GTOPO30 is used. The oceans are defined as flat. The SRTM data covers all land areas except the Antarctica, Alaska, Northern Canada, Greenland, Iceland, most of Scandinavia, Northern Russia and Siberia.

Images are loaded using a proxy WMS from the NASA OnEarth server. Our server caches the images so that when an area is visited once, by anybody, the images are available for everybody else without accessing the overloaded NASA server. The images have a resolution of 15m over large parts of the earth. Digital Chart of the World line data are fetched from the GLOBE project. The DCW data are disabled by default, you have to go to the coverage menu in the Virtual Globe data hierarchy to enable manually. The DCW server seems to be down at present, this data currently disabeled

Before the proxy cache fills up image access is going to be slow. If you think it is too slow and the images never reaches the resolution level you expect, it is most probably because the NASA server is overloaded and refuses any more connections. Try again later!

Click to start Virtual Globe

Global land and ocean floor terrain

A land/sea-floor composite using land and seafloor data from: SRTM30 plus. The satellite images are the Blue Marble, next generation.

Click to start Land and seafloor Globe

Globe with 3d features

This demo shows a globe with buildings modeled as VRML objects.

The application initially shows the Norwegian town Tønsberg and the Finnish town Turku. The VRML building models from Tønsberg and Turku where designed by the Helsinki University of Technology, Computer Science Lab for the TellMaris project. The terrain and image texture data shown here are fairly coarse. We had better in the Tellmaris project (as shown in the image to the left...), but as it is copyrighted data from the Norwegian and Finnish mapping authorities and the authorities of the cities of Turku and Tønsberg we can not distribute it to the general public. (We even had 3d trees!) The picture gallery has some example screenshots.

The VRML loader used is the Xj3D toolkit from the web3d consortium. The VRML libraries are installed automatically.

Click below to start Virtual Globe with 3D features:

Placename search

NEW! Globe with placename service using data from Geonames and Wikipedia.

Click here to start Globe with Placenames

Other projects

Go to the Norwegian page at for hi-resolution visualization of some Norwegian sites (text in Norwegian only).

Getting started

You should be able to get the Virtual Globe up and running from information presented on this page. If you shoud need more information please see the documentation page.


Moving around

You can move around in the virtual world by using mouse or key commands.

For all commands; combining with [shift] accelerates the key and mouse action. It is also possible to type position and view direction for the view point directly into the navigation panel under the 3D view.
Mouse commands in the 3D window Key commands in the 3D window To fly
Left mouse button:
Move around horizontally
Mid mouse button (wheel as mouse button) or
[ctrl]-left mouse button:
Change view direction
Right mouse button or
[alt]-left mouse button:
Rotate viewpoint around the place you are pointing at
Rotate wheel:
Move forwards and backwards
Arrow keys:
Move around horizontally
[ctrl]-arrow keys:
Change view direction
[alt]-arrow keys:
Move sideways
[PageUp]/[PageDown] key:
Move forwards and backwards
Accelerate forwards
Brake / accelerate rearwards

In the upper left corner of the Virtual Globe main window there is an overview map. Movements in the map and 3D view are interlinked. There are corresponding mouse and key commands to move around in the map view.
Mouse commands in the map window Key commands in the map window
Left mouse button:
Move around horizontally
Mid mouse button and wheel or
[ctrl]-left mouse button:
Move up and down
Right mouse button or
[alt]-left mouse button:
Rotate view direction
Arrow keys:
Move around horizontally
Move up and down
[ctrl]-arrow key:
Rotate view direction

Some advice for efficient navigation in the 3D world:

Move to some distant place:
Click in the overview map. Use the mouse wheel to gain height. Use the left mouse button to "spin" the globe in the overview map. Use the mouse wheel to reduce height.
View a place from all directions:
Use the right mouse button in the 3D view to rotate the viewpoint around the interesting place, combine with [shift] to move faster.


Java: Some users may experience problems with the Java installation or the integration of Java in the web browser. This page attempts to find information about your Java installation, but some web browsers are less cooperative and gives little information for us to use.

If this is the first time you use the Virtual Globe you'll be asked if you trust data delevered by Thawte Freemail Member (that's me...) and Sun Microsystems. If you answer no you won't be able to start the application. You may see a warning that some certificates are outdated, this warning is not dangerous.

If you see this error message: Unable to launch the application it is normally caused by an error in the network path to the server or an errounous download of the Globe software libraries. If there is a network problem, and the fault is not on your side you just have to wait. To reload the Globe libraries (and other Java Web Start applications) type the command "javaws -uninstall" in a CMD (DOS) window or in the Run... panel in the Windows Start menu. Then restart the Globe.

Your web browser may ask what to do with a file of type: application/x-java-jnlp-file. You should answer that it should be opened by the program 'javaws'.

Graphics system: This application requires a graphics processor. It does not have large demands, older models like Radeon 7500 and GeForce2 or newer versions of Intel integrated graphics are sufficient. You shoud install recent versions of graphic drivers (the control programs for your graphics processor). They may be downloaded from the homepages of your computer or graphics card manufactorer. If the application craches or shows unexpected lines and triangles over the screen it is most probably because of a faulty graphics procssor or drivers. We have had some problems with graphics processors from Matrox.

If you get a screen like this: Blaa jord it is most probably caused by a problem we have met with some graphics processors. It may help to switch to a simpler graphics system. Open the Tools/Configuration menu and select the "User interface" panel. Switch off "Use 3D objects", select "OK" and restart the Globe. In the models containing buildings and other 3D objects you will not be able to see them with the simpler graphics system.

Memory: You should have at least 256MB of free memory, and even that is on the small side. Windows XP uses almost 200MB only for it self and the Virtual Globe uses another 200MB. Windows Vista requires 1 GB for itself, and Vista computers should have at least 2 GB to work comfortably. If the program reacts slowly, stops for several seconds or takes a while to start the problem is most probably too little memory.

Network and local disc cache: A fast broadband connection is preferable, but also slower connections (modem/ISDN) should work. The application stores data for already visited areas on your local disc, which reduces network traffic and network dependency. This is of great help when using slow network connections. The parameters for local disc caching can be adjusted in the menu Tools/Configuration. If you should run short of disk space the folder can be deleted with no negative impact except that the application has to reload data from the server.

Firewall: If you are behind a proxy firewall (several organizations with a strict security policy uses one) all programs that accesses external internet has to go through the firewall and has to know the IP address of the firewall. Usually Java gets proxy configuration data from your web browser, but some browsers doesn't give this information. You'll then have to set this manually in the 'Java Control Panel'. Open this as described below. Open the 'General' tab and select 'Network settings'. Add your proxy parameters, ask your system administrator if neccessary.

Java Control Panel: Open the 'Run' dialog from the Windows 'Start' menu. Write the command 'javaws -viewer' and select 'Ok'. Alternatively start the command 'javaws -viewer' in a command interpreter ('cmd' or DOS window). This will open two windows: 'Java Cache Viewer' og 'Java Control Panel'. Close 'Java Cache Viewer', we will use 'Java Control Panel'.

Java Console: If you should require assistance it would be of great help if you could send error messages from the java console window. To enable the java console start the 'Java Control Panel' as described above, and open the 'Advanced' tab. Open 'Java Console' and select 'Show Console'. Next time the Virtual Globe is started you will also get a text window showing messages from the program. Copy the messages into a mail and send to me together with a description of your problems.

Background and History

The Virtual Globe project first went online in the summer 2001 and is, to our knowledge, the first ever Internet based client-server system for visualization of practically unlimited resolution global scale 3D geographic data. It was initially developed by SINTEF, institute for applied mathematics. In 2006 the Globe project was acquired by Norkart to be further developed.

In the period 2001-2003 the Virtual globe was used in the EU financed Tellmaris project for developing 3D visualization for boat tourists. It has also been used for other tourist information research projects and for urban and rural area visualization.