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Google Earth: Ocean topography receives major update

Menlo Park (global-adventures.us): The ocean terrain displayed on Google Earth, a virtual globe originally created by Keyhole, Inc., received some major updates. New bathymetry data assembled by Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego (UCSD), NOAA and many other ocean mapping groups from around the world was used to bring the underwater maps up to date.

“The original version of Google Ocean was a newly developed prototype map that had high resolution but also contained thousands of blunders related to the original archived ship data,” said David Sandwell, a Scripps geophysicist. “UCSD undergraduate students spent the past three years identifying and correcting the blunders as well as adding all the multibeam echo-sounder data archived at the National Geophysical Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. The Google map now matches the map used in the research community, which makes the Google Earth program much more useful as a tool for planning cruises to uncharted areas.”

Through several rounds of upgrades, Google Earth now has 15 percent of the seafloor image derived from shipboard soundings at one-kilometer resolution. Previous versions only derived about 10 percent of their data from ship soundings and the rest from depths predicted using satellite gravity measurements. For example, the updated, more precise data corrects a grid-like artifact on the seafloor that was misinterpreted as evidence of the lost city of Atlantis off the coast of North Africa. The new version includes all of the multibeam bathymetry data collected by researchers in over 40 countries, including 287 Scripps expeditions.

Google Earth was first released on June 28, 2005. The freeware program runs on most major operating systems, including Microsoft Windows, Linux, FreeBSD, and Mac OS X. Browser plugins, released in 2008, enable users to view map data on Android based smartphones and Apple’s iPhone.

Google introduced Ocean features in 2009 and updated ocean floor imagery on January 31, 2010. During 2009 and 2010, Google also added data for several lakes, including the Great Lakes and Lake Baikal. High resolution seafloor features developed by oceanographers at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory covering about five percent of the world’s oceans were added in 2011. The latest update covers ocean topography from all over the globe and reveals the most accurate view of the seafloor to date.

The next major upgrade to the grid will occur later this year using a new gravity model having twice the accuracy of previous models. The new gravity information is being collected by a European Space Agency satellite called CryoSat that was launched in February 2010. A Google video on YouTube (available here) offers an insight into Google Earth and the seafloor features available in the program.

About 71 percent of Earth’s surface is covered by oceans and lakes. The underwater shown on Google Earth received a major upgrade, using bathymetry data collected by researchers from over 40 countries.

By Bernd F. Laeschke


Chief Editor at Global Adventures Magazine

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