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HOW STUFF WORKS / SMART IDEAS

Google Earth Goes 3D

By Mike Wheeler | Monday | 02/02/2009

Not long after releasing Street View, Google is going for world domination in the mapping department with its new application Ocean.

The new feature allows users to dive beneath the water surface, explore 3D underwater terrain, and browse ocean-related content contributed by leaders in ocean science and advocacy.

This new layer highlights the Great Barrier Reef, while also featuring marine protected areas like Point Hicks Marine National Park in Victoria, dive and surf sites all around Australia, and video footage including Jacques Cousteau diving expeditions off Western Australia.

Content for the 'Explore the Ocean' layer was developed with the help of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS).

Professor David Bellwood of CoECRS and James Cook University describes the coverage of the Great Barrier Reef in Google Earth as "superb promotion for our greatest natural wonder."

"The oceans are out of sight, and out of mind. Only fishermen, scientists, tourism operators and the like really see what is happening, day to day. Our hope is that, through the medium of the internet, millions of people - young people especially - will now be able to develop a better feel for what is happening to our oceans, and might be inspired to visit them and see for themselves.

"The Great Barrier Reef attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world every year. Thanks to Google Earth it will now receive millions more virtual visitors - many of whom will hopefully decide it is well worth a real visit."

The Ocean feature is on by default in the newest version of Google Earth. As users zoom in on the ocean they will see a dynamic water surface, and once they dive beneath the surface they can navigate 3D sea floor terrain. The feature includes 20 content layers, containing information contributed by the world's leading scientists and ocean explorers.  It provides an opportunity to explore some of the most difficult-to-reach parts of the world, letting people examine underwater volcanoes, watch videos about the exotic marine life of a region, read about nearby shipwrecks, and contribute photos and videos of favourite surf spots.

"Biodiversity loss in our oceans in the next 20-30 years will be roughly equivalent to losing an entire Amazon rainforest, but this goes unnoticed because we can't see it," says Google CEO Eric Schmidt. "This is why [the] launch of Google Earth 5.0 is so important - it gives us an opportunity to change everyone's perspective."

The new version of Google Earth also introduces Mars 3D, which features hi-res imagery and terrain of the red planet; Historical Imagery, letting people virtually travel back in time through archival satellite and aerial imagery; and Touring, which makes it simple to create a narrated tour in Google Earth and share it with the world.

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