Using Google Earth to Assess Shade for Sun Protection in Urban Recreation Spaces: Methods and Results

  • R. Gage
  • N. Wilson
  • L. Signal
  • M. Barr
  • C. Mackay
  • A. Reeder
  • G. Thomson
Original Paper


Shade in public spaces can lower the risk of and sun burning and skin cancer. However, existing methods of auditing shade require travel between sites, and sunny weather conditions. This study aimed to evaluate the feasibility of free computer software—Google Earth—for assessing shade in urban open spaces. A shade projection method was developed that uses Google Earth street view and aerial images to estimate shade at solar noon on the summer solstice, irrespective of the date of image capture. Three researchers used the method to separately estimate shade cover over pre-defined activity areas in a sample of 45 New Zealand urban open spaces, including 24 playgrounds, 12 beaches and 9 outdoor pools. Outcome measures included method accuracy (assessed by comparison with a subsample of field observations of 10 of the settings) and inter-rater reliability. Of the 164 activity areas identified in the 45 settings, most (83%) had no shade cover. The method identified most activity areas in playgrounds (85%) and beaches (93%) and was accurate for assessing shade over these areas (predictive values of 100%). Only 8% of activity areas at outdoor pools were identified, due to a lack of street view images. Reliability for shade cover estimates was excellent (intraclass correlation coefficient of 0.97, 95% CI 0.97–0.98). Google Earth appears to be a reasonably accurate and reliable and shade audit tool for playgrounds and beaches. The findings are relevant for programmes focused on supporting the development of healthy urban open spaces.


Sun protection Urban open space Outdoor recreation Skin cancer Google Earth Shade 



This work was funded by the Cancer Society of New Zealand, Wellington Division. The funder had no role in the study design; collection, analysis and reporting of data; writing the report; or the decision to submit the report for publication.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Health Promotion and Policy Research UnitUniversity of OtagoWellingtonNew Zealand
  2. 2.Burden of Disease Epidemiology, Equity and Cost-Effectiveness ProgrammeUniversity of OtagoWellingtonNew Zealand
  3. 3.School of ArchitectureVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand
  4. 4.Cancer Society Social and Behavioural Research UnitUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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