Google Maps Gallery debuts as Web's interactive digital atlas

The tech giant partners with governments and organizations to publish hundreds of historic and informative maps that anyone can explore.

Some of the maps found in Google Maps Gallery. Screenshot by Dara Kerr/CNET

Ever wanted to know the best escape route out of a city in case of an emergency? How about which of the world's coral reefs are in the greatest danger? Or, the exact route of the Lewis and Clark Trail in 1814?

All of these maps are now far easier to find because of a feature Google launched on Thursday called Google Maps Gallery. This gallery is full of interactive digital maps from a variety of businesses, governments, and nonprofit organizations, such as National Geographic, World Bank Group, and the US Geological Survey.

The topics covered in the maps run the gamut, including construction projects, historic battlefields, Internet users worldwide, US congressional districts, climate change data, public school ratings, and much more. Before being published on the Web, many of these maps were mostly inaccessible to the public.

National Geographic Maps director of digital development Frank Biasi points out that the majority of its maps could only be seen in paper form. But now that the organization has joined Google's Gallery, these maps are available to all.

"Over the last 125 years, National Geographic has developed and published more than 800 maps, as one of our primary vehicles for achieving our mission to inspire people to care about the planet," Biasi said in a statement. "But access to these maps has been limited due to their physical printed nature and their range of publication dates. Maps Gallery makes our entire collection and individual maps discoverable and viewable to the world through a simple Google Maps user experience."

The Maps Gallery is an expansion of Google Maps Engine, which is a public data program launched last year. The Maps Engine allows groups to share and publish their maps online.

Besides being able to dig through maps in the Gallery, users can also find these maps on Google Earth and in searches.

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