Living on an island in the Indian Ocean

Understanding GIS Layers and Adding Them in Various GIS Platforms

1.     What is a GIS Layer?

A GIS (Geographic Information System) layer is a fundamental concept in geospatial technology. It represents a specific type of information on a map, such as roads, rivers, land parcels, population density, etc. Layers allow you to organize and visualize different data sets together, enabling spatial analysis and better decision-making.

A GIS layer consists of:

Geometry: The geographical shapes or points (like polygons, lines, or points) that represent real-world features.

Attributes: The associated information or data that describes the features, such as names, populations, temperatures, etc.

Symbolization: The visual representation of the features, including colors, styles, and labels.

2.     Adding Layers in Different Platforms:

A. Google Earth Desktop:

Google Earth Desktop allows you to view and interact with 3D maps of the Earth.

  • Open Google Earth Desktop: Download and install Google Earth on your computer if you haven’t already.
  • Add a Layer:
    • Click on “File” in the menu.
    • Choose “Open” and navigate to the data file (KML/KMZ format) you want to add. The new layer will appear in the “Places” panel on the left.

B. Google Earth Web:

Google Earth Web provides a browser-based platform to explore the Earth.

  • Open Google Earth Web: Go to the Google Earth website in your web browser.
  • Add a Layer: Click on the menu (three horizontal lines) on the upper left.
  • Select “Projects.”
  • Click on “New Project.”
  • Upload a KML/KMZ file from your computer or Google Drive.
  • The layer will be added to your project.

C. Google My Maps:

Google My Maps lets you create custom maps with personalized layers.

  • Open Google My Maps: Go to the Google My Maps website.
  • Add a Layer:
  • Click on “Create a new map” or open an existing map.
  • Click on “Add layer” on the left panel.
  • Choose to import a KML/KMZ file or manually add points, lines, or shapes.
  • Customize the layer’s style and information.


QGIS is an open-source GIS software for in-depth spatial analysis and data manipulation.

  • Open QGIS: Download and install QGIS on your computer.
  • Add a Layer:
  • Click on “Layer” in the top menu.
  • Select “Add Layer” and choose the type of data source (Vector, Raster, etc.).
  • Browse for the data file (shapefile, geodatabase, etc.) you want to add.
  • Configure the layer properties and symbology.

In each platform, the process may involve variations depending on updates and changes. However, the core concept of adding layers remains consistent. Remember to ensure compatibility between the data format and the platform you’re using.

Map activity description and instructions

Making simple maps with Google My Maps


You can download the KMLs used in the demonstration here >>>

Video demos

All the videos are without sound, so you can use them in any classroom and also in big groups without worries that your class will become noisy.

Creating a simple map with photos

Creating a map with KML of Administrative Boundaries

Creating a map with KML of Greenhouses

Creating a map with KML of Protected Areas

Creating a map with places we have visited

Creating a map of waterfalls in Reunion island