Google Earth Exercise: Chapter 3

Comparing Distances—Then and Now: The Acceleration of Transport

Regardless of the interpretation of globalization to which one adheres, a key driver of global change in the twentieth century has been a rapidly diminishing friction of distance. In the past 100 years, the speed of transport for people, goods, and information has increased dramatically and enabled the development of transnational corporations, increased global trade and migration, and new possibilities for participating in the global economy.

The task: Using Google Earth, compare the time–space convergence of Southampton, UK and New York City—key ports for migration flows during the early twentieth century. In 1900, the typical speed for steam liners making the passage across the Atlantic Ocean would have been 24 knots, or about 45 km/h. Modern jet airliners cruise at an average ground speed of 950km/h, though an accessible price for transatlantic travel at this speed was not attained until 1978 with the introduction of large-body planes and airline deregulation.

Question: At what annual rate have these locations converged? Express this as minutes per year. Once you have finished your calculations, scroll to the bottom of the page to check your answer.

Step 1: Determine the distance between the cities using the path tool.

Locate the origin and destination using the search box (you can begin in either New York or Southampton), then connect the two using the path tool.

The path tool window can be moved aside while you navigate across the Atlantic to create the shortest route. View controls on the left edge of the viewport can be used to pan, zoom and angle the view.


The left-most tab in the path tool dialogue box can be used to show the length of any path you draw in the viewport. Use this to calculate the time for passage circa 1900.

Answer: The distance from Southampton to New York City is approximately 5700 kilometers by ship. In 1900, at a speed of 45km/h the voyage would take 127 hours. In 1978 the same voyage would take exactly 6 hours by modern airliner. This represents a 121 hour convergence over a time span of 78 years or 93 minutes per year.