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Google Earth Gauntlet

Ocean Depth

Google Access

Eric Schmidt Speaks

Google Earth and Maps director

Al Gore Speaks

Vanishing glaciers

The woman who spurred Google into action

Taking the plunge

Google's Marissa Mayer

Jimmy Buffett takes the stage

Virtual Mars

Show and tell

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

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

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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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"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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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.

Caption by / Photo by Stephen Shankland/CNET News
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