Add a link to Google Earth for altitude information

Platform(s): website

Description of need: When identifying observations, the altidude is ofthen an essential information.

Feature request details:
Unfortunately iNaturalist doesnt have a feature to get the altitude of the location. It was also decided to not add that feature. There are however third party services that offer that functionality. For example Google Earth provides an easy way by just hovering the mouse over a location. iNaturalist provides links to open the observations location in Google Maps or Open Street Map. There is no convenient way to do this with Google Earth yet. It would be great to add a link to it like there is already for the other services.

There is a way to see the (approximate) altitude of an observation. In the map view, you can tick the box for terrain (Gelände) which adds contour lines to the map:


if iNat staff don’t want to add altitude, i’m not sure why they would want to link to something just to allow someone to lookup elevation. does Google Earth even work on mobile devices without installing the app?

if you just need the elevation, you could always just look it up relatively quickly using some service like Open-Elevation’s public API. you can get the coordinates relatively easily by doing the following:

  1. get the URL from the Google Maps link (ex.,-95.4277158082)
  2. retain the part of the URL that has the coordinates, but replace it with a URL that will call the Open-Elevation API (ex.,-95.4277158082)
  3. navigate to that new URL in your browser, and it’ll display results like this: {"results": [{"latitude": 29.7352818105, "longitude": -95.4277158082, "elevation": 20}]}

i’m sure there are also apps or extensions that you could install or write yourself that would allow you to translate that Google Maps link into a link that would take you to Google Earth or whatever other service could provide elevations.

more discussion here:

i thought once about writing a tool that would allow you to add a looked up elevation figure to an observation via an observation field, but i thought that could easily be abused. so i never went down that path.


It’s worth keeping in mind that Google Earth altitude information is approximate at best, and often extremely so.

The surface terrain layers used by GE for extracting altitude information is crude at best, and wildly inaccurate in some locations. Anywhere where you’re dealing with cliffs and other steep terrain with a high rise/run value GE is essentially worthless.

In my work (in an area that is characterized by lots of extremely steep terrain) this is enough of an issue that we use GE only for the photogrammetry side, not for the elevation side.


Another option is Caltopo,-95.42772&z=14&b=t

For my cliff-dwelling Erica halicacaba - thanks

And a kind lower fynbos aloe

@pastabaum Thanks for the tip. But it only shows the lines in steep terrain. On flat terrain this is not usable.

@pisum I dont think its true that “iNat staff dont want altitude”, its probably just that they decided not to implement it into iNat directly. This feature request is about the website, so the mobile device part is irrelevant. Thank you for explaining an alernative way to get the altitude, i know there are countless ways to do that, but this feature request is specifically about making it convenient.

@earthknight I know it can be inaccurate at cliffs, but for ID purposes its good enough for me in most places

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You can add altitude in an observation field: choose one::✓&q=altitude&commit=Search

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install an extension in your browser to redirect URLs based on specific rules, set up a rule to redirect the Google Maps link to your URL of choice, toggle on the extension when you need it and off when you don’t… seems convenient to me.

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I know, but one first needs to get the data from somewhere

Just an uber-pedantic note to say that altitude is not all that useful, unless one is identifying birds.

If one is trying to be precise:

Altitude = height above the ground (in the air)
Elevation = height above sea level (air, ground or underground)

You can have negative altitudes (depth) on high elevations, for example a cave near a mountaintop.



I think it is a better idea to automatically add the elevation ( or altitude) to an observation (field) then adding an url to the observation.

hmmm… this doesn’t sound quite right. my understanding is that both altitude and elevation are measures of height above a given reference point. elevation is typically thought of as the height of a location on the ground above sea level, but altitude is a lot more variable in its definition depending on the context. altitude is usually thought of as the height of a thing above a given reference point. sometimes that reference point is sea level (true altitude), sometimes it’s the ground level (absolute altitudue). so a true altitude of the ground could be more or less equivalent to elevation, but for that specific case, from the perspective of someone mapping stuff, i think elevation is the preferred term because it’s typically less ambiguous. i believe the altitude that you phone will measure is a type of true altitude. so if you put the phone at ground level when getting a location, the measured GPS altitude should be equivalent to elevation.

Yes this would have been a feature id like a lot, but feature requests for that have already been rejected. An i think adding that link wouldnt take much space, especially since there seems to be room for other services aswell.

I don’t think there is a link format that will open Google Earth. I don’t think it’s helpful to non-developers to provide a link to content intended for machines, so I don’t support linking to a bare API response. What I would love to do is link to Macrostrat, where people could get elevation and a whole lot of geological context, but the limiting factor there is that Macrostrat doesn’t support showing a map marker and contextual info given a URL with coordinates. If any developers out there want to change that, I made this issue (they’d also have to accept your work and deploy it, though).

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the format to link out to Google Earth is,11.883346

if you’re actually thinking of making a change, i think opening Google Earth is only an indirect way to get elevation. not sure if you have access to the Google Elevation API as part of the services iNat gets from Google Maps, but you might be able to get elevation from that and display directly on the iNat page:

is this what you’re looking for? suppose lat = 30 and long = -90, then a roughly city view (zoom level = 10) would be:

EDIT: nevermind… i see it’s not displaying the pin without you having clicked on the map/

The kind folks at Macrostrat implemented that change, so there’s now a link to the Macrostrat map in the map popover on the iNat obs detail page. Does that solve the problem of linking to somewhere that shows the elevation at the observation coodrinates, or does anyone still want a link to Google Earth?


@jf920, just nudging you here to see what you think. You can read more about this here.