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Photos: Oceans open to Google Earth

Google lures notables including Al Gore and Jimmy Buffett to the launch of Google Earth 5.0, which adds a view of the ocean to the virtual exploration software.

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Stephen Shankland
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SAN FRANCISCO--The newly rebuilt California Academy of Sciences, now spruced up with a giant Google Maps locator pushpin, hosted the launch of Google Earth 5 Monday. The standout feature for the new mapping and geographic exploration software is the addition of information for the planet's oceans, which previously was a blank blue.

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Google Earth Gauntlet

The corridors leading to the launch event were lined with dozens of Google Earth staff members.

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Ocean Depth

The 3D display of Google Earth 5.0 now shows features of the ocean floor.

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Google Access

Chief Executive Eric Schmidt and former Vice President Al Gore were seated side by side in the front row of the event. He called Gore a hero for his early alerts about global warming, prompting Gore to quip that his phone's hype alarm had gone off.

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Eric Schmidt Speaks

"When you think about Google Earth, you're missing the majority of the earth, which is the oceans," Google CEO Eric Schmidt said.

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Google Earth and Maps director

John Hanke, director of Google Maps and Google Earth, described how the software has become a tool for Brazilian tribesman to monitor illegal logging in the rain forest. He also touted a new feature, the ability to view areas of Earth through the software from earlier years by delving back into Google's archive.

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Al Gore Speaks

Gore said Google Earth provides a natural interface for exploring the world. The desktop-with-files metaphor of computer operating systems doesn't work that well, but "Google Earth uses the earth itself as a metaphor," Gore said.

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Vanishing glaciers

Gore said it was hard for him to assemble before-and-after photos of melting glaciers for the climate change talk that ultimately won him both and Oscar and Nobel Peace Prize. Now, using Google Earth's history-browsing feature, anyone can see the glaciers vanishing.

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The woman who spurred Google into action

Oceanographer Sylvia Earle, explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society and the founder of the Deep Search Foundation, helped make Google Earth's ocean view a reality. Three years ago, she quipped to Hanke that Google should call the software Google Dirt for its lack of ocean data.

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Taking the plunge

Oceanographer Sylvia Earle showed how Google Earth's viewpoint now can give the virtual explorer a dolphin's-eye underwater view of the ocean.

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Google's Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer, vice president of search and user experience, oversees Google's geographic projects, among others. She lauded Google's culture of fostering individual innovation; Google Maps Street View, which began at Stanford University, was Google's fastest-growing property in 2008, she said.

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Jimmy Buffett takes the stage

With "Margaritaville" playing in the background, singer Jimmy Buffett previewed locations of a coming Hawaii tour using Google Earth, then performed "Son of a Son of a Sailor."

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Virtual Mars

Noel Gorelick, formerly a NASA contractor and now leader of Google Earth's Mars project, shows the Red Planet in the midst of a deep blue demonstration room.

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Show and tell

Researchers from many organizations mingled with Googlers showing off Google Earth 5.0. Many expressed excitement to have a publicly accessible platform on which to present research findings and build educational tools.

To see screenshots of the new software, click here.

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