Google Maps visits Antarctica's snowy landscape

Complete with 360-degree panoramic views of glaciers, penguins, and exploration outposts, Google's Street View brings the South Pole to armchair explorers.

The Ceremonial South Pole captured on Google Maps. Google
Penguins in the South Pole. Google

Antarctica is long known to be an inhospitable place of constant cold and wind and completely void of plant life. It is also supposed to be beautiful -- filled with snowy vistas, blue-tinted glaciers, and penguins.

Google announced today that with the introduction of its new Google Maps feature people don't need to gear up, survive the elements, and make the long journey to explore this corner of the world. They can simply fire up their computers and take a tour with Antarctic Street View.

One of the focuses of this special addition to Google Maps is to teach users about the history of Antarctic exploration and the people who first set up shop in this bleak environment.

Here's what Google's technical program manager for Street View Alex Starns wrote in a blog post:

In the winter of 1913, a British newspaper ran an advertisement to promote the latest imperial expedition to Antarctica, apparently placed by polar explorer Ernest Shackleton. It read, "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success." While the ad appears apocryphal, the dangerous nature of the journey to the South Pole is certainly not--as explorers like Roald Amundsen, Robert Falcon Scott and Shackleton himself discovered as they tried to become the first men to reach it.

Partnering with the Polar Geospatial Center at the University of Minnesota and the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust, Google has added 360-degree images of many historic spots, including the South Pole Telescope, Shackleton's and Scott's small wooden huts, Cape Royds Adelie Penguin Rookery, and the Ceremonial South Pole.

"They were built to withstand the drastic weather conditions only for the few short years that the explorers inhabited them," Starns wrote, "but remarkably, after more than a century, the structures are still intact, along with well-preserved examples of the food, medicine, survival gear and equipment used during the expeditions."

All of the images were taken with a lightweight tripod camera using a fisheye lens because it was impossible to use the typical Street View trikes in the snow-filled landscape.

These images and more information on the history of exploration outposts in the South Pole will be added to Google's World Wonders Web site, which has other similar projects such as Kakadu National Park in Australia, Modern Mural paintings in Mexico City, and Stonehenge in England.

Google Maps' Street View has recently launched several collaborations that take it beyond city streets. In March, it brought a remote region of Brazil's Amazon to its maps and in February it took its cameras underwater to explore Australia's Great Barrier Reef in a program called the Catlin Seaview Survey.

"The goal of these efforts is to provide scientists and travel (or penguin) enthusiasts all over the world with the most accurate, high-resolution data of these important historic locations," Starns wrote. "With this access, schoolchildren as far as Bangalore can count penguin colonies on Snow Hill Island, and geologists in Georgia can trace sedimentary layers in the Dry Valleys from the comfort of their desks."

Here is a Google video about its Street View imagery of the Antarctic:

 

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