National Geographic News
Exploring the oceans no longer requires a wet suit.
Ocean in Google Earth, which launched today, builds on the free, popular 3-D mapping software Google Earth by allowing users to navigate underwater in unprecedented clarity. (See new Google Earth ocean pictures.)
New "layers" to the satellite-based software include topographic maps of the seafloor; locations of shipwrecks and algal blooms; and even maps of the tiny phytoplankton that provide the bulk of the ocean's food chain.
Within the layers, users can explore multimedia features that combine data and maps with videos, quizzes, and other interactives. (Watch Google Earth ocean preview.)
(Related story: "Google Earth, Satellite Maps Boost Armchair Archaeology" [November 7, 2006].)
The new fish-eye view—accessible via a free upgrade—aims to provide a public platform for users to talk about the oceans, said John Hanke, director of Geo Products at Google.
"It really is a means... [of] raising geographical awareness of oceans and the pressures that are being put on life in the ocean," he added.
Into the Blue
The idea first came to well-known marine biologist Sylvia Earle at a conference in Madrid, Spain, a few years ago, when she addressed Hanke during a presentation.
"I just blurted it out," Earle, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, recalled. (National Geographic News is owned by the National Geographic Society.)
"I said, I hope someday, John, you'll finish [Google Earth]. You've done a great job with the dirt, but there's all that water out there—the world is blue."
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