Imagine if Google Earth could take users under the ocean. People on laptops sitting hundreds of miles away from any body of water could dive down and spot colorful reef fish, coral forests, sea snakes, and rare turtles. A program just like this was officially announced today.
In a partnership with Google, the global insurance company Catlin Group Limited and nonprofit Underwater Earth launched the Catlin Seaview Survey. The goal is to let people explore the ocean from afar and also carry out the first detailed study about the composition and health of coral reefs. The mapping expedition is expected to set sail in September 2012.
"The Catlin Seaview Survey comprises a series of studies, which will reveal to the public one of the last frontiers on Earth: the oceans," chief scientist for the project Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said in a statement. "For the first time in history, we have the technology available to broadcast the findings and expedition through Google."
Users won't be able to look for Hawaiian underwater volcanoes or the Loch Ness Monster quite yet--so far the mapping will just be available for the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. However, being 2,300 kilometers long, what can be seen in that part of the Pacific Ocean is unrivaled.
The Catlin Seaview Survey camera is equipped with a depth range of zero to 100 meters and can capture thousands of 360-degree underwater panoramas. When these images are stitched together, people will be able to choose a location and go for a virtual dive. Using Panoramio, a location-oriented photo sharing Web site, the panoramas will be uploaded for millions to see worldwide.
Once all mapping with the Catlin Seaview Survey is done, there will be roughly 50,000 panoramas that will be accessible on Google Earth and Google Maps. A YouTube channel will also be dedicated to the project that will include livestreams of the expedition team from the ocean floor.
One of the goals of the project is to understand the effects of climate change on the ocean by doing comprehensive surveys over time. Three distinct surveys will be done: shallow reef, deep-water, and mega-fauna. The shallow reef survey will use image recognition software to quickly take visual census of corals, fish, and other organisms. The deep-water survey will use diving robots to explore the reef at depths of 30 to 100 meters, where little is known. The mega-fauna survey will study the migratory behavior of tiger sharks, green turtles, and manta rays in response to increasing seawater temperatures.
Over the coming years, the Catlin Seaview Survey plans to expand globally. Hoegh-Guldberg said, "Millions of people will be able to experience the life, the science and the magic that exists under the surface of our oceans."