Google Earth lets users dive in to explore ocean depths

Latest version of Google Earth also offers 3-D maps of Mars and historical images

Dory and Marlin would likely have had an easier time finding Nemo if the new version of Google Earth was around at the time.

Google Inc. today launched the latest version of Google Earth, which promises to provide users with a much closer look at the Earth's oceans. The new version includes a detailed map of the ocean floor, Google noted.

John Hanke, director of Google Earth and Maps, wrote in a blog post today that the popular Google Earth has long showed users the ocean -- but mostly just as a big blue area with some basic shading to show depth. "But starting today we have a much more detailed bathymetric map (the ocean floor), so you can actually drop below the surface and explore the nooks and crannies of the seafloor in 3D," wrote Hanke. "While you're there, you can explore thousands of data points, including videos and images of ocean life, details on the best surf spots, logs of real ocean expeditions, and much more."

In a separate statement, Hanke added, "What this project helped me begin to understand is the role the ocean plays in global climate change and the impact that humans are having on the oceans and the creatures that live in it. It was a serious omission on our part not to include a better treatment of the oceans when we launched Google Earth, and I'm very happy that we've been able to address that. We now have a good substrate for publishing and exploring data about the 'other' two-thirds of the planet."

Caroline Dangson, an analyst at IDC, said the addition of ocean views in the new version of Google Earth is significant for users.

"Google is a market leader because it does not see limits to what its services can do," she said. "Oceans add much more content to Google Earth for consumers to explore. Ocean in Google Earth is sticky and will keep consumers on the service longer, exploring places only a few scientists have been."

The new version also includes several other updates, according to Google.

For example, the application now has historical imagery, showing users images of a place years or even decades in the past. It's designed so that when someone uses the new time slider -- by clicking on the clock icon in the toolbar -- they can see how an area has changed over time.

Google also collaborated with NASA to add a 3-D map of Mars. The map includes the latest high-resolution imagery from the space agency and is accessed via a new Mars icon on the Google Earth toolbar.

But analysts said the ocean view is creating the most buzz among users.

"This is a good evolutionary move for Google," said Dan Olds, principal analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc. "Google Earth is becoming a key tool for a lot of users and a component in a lot of businesses operations -- everything from using it to show consumers their store locations to using it to route shipments. So why not add the rest of the Earth to it?"

Olds noted that he was impressed with how Google expanded its data storage capabilities to take on all the extra information, since about two-thirds of the planet is made up of water. "This is going to be great for companies that want to see where their container load of shoes is at a particular moment," added Olds. "Take Nike, for example. Sure, they can get GPS coordinates from the shipper, but Google Earth will let them see where their shipment is visually. It's not a complete revolution, but an interesting revolution."

Just last week, Google launched what it calls Measurement Lab (M-Lab), an open system that researchers and consumers can use to access its new Internet performance measurement tools.

The online behemoth last week also launched an updated version of its hosted Gmail e-mail service that lets users access their accounts without an Internet connection. The updated service allows users to read, write and archive e-mail messages while flying in an airplane.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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