Google Earth users are getting an in-depth look at deep-sea volcanoes and underwater canyons with the help of a new version of the popular application launched this month that showcases seafloor imagery provided by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego scientist David Sandwell.
“Our global seafloor map on Google Earth opens new possibilities for users to explore Earth’s most remote ocean environments, such as the East Pacific Rise and Mariana Trench,” said Sandwell, professor of geophysics in the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP) at Scripps Oceanography.
Sandwell and Walter Smith of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) supplied the global bathymetry data for the three-dimensional backdrop required for Google Earth users to explore the ocean world. Sandwell studies geological structures of deep-ocean basins using satellites and ships, with a focus on the undersea geology of uncharted areas of the southern Pacific Ocean. The bathymetry map, which is the most comprehensive record of the seafloor available, was integral to Google’s ocean project.
As part of Google Earth’s dive into the oceans, Scripps was invited to contribute an “expedition layer,” which offers marine points of interest on Google’s virtual globe. Scripps provided highlights of a two-and-a-half year research voyage aboard Scripps’ R/V Melville. The research expedition took scientists across 10 countries and 17 ports and features a broad range of science, from undersea volcanoes to studies of Earth’s magnetic field.
Discoveries during the expedition included dramatic close-up observations of a deep-sea volcanic eruption, including red lava, plumes of ash, liquid carbon dioxide and molten sulfur, all of which were observed by a robotic submersible controlled from a command module aboard R/V Melville.
During the voyage, Scripps geophysicists Jeff Gee and Steve Cande used R/V Melville as an “aircraft carrier” to launch and recover unmanned aerial vehicles at sea to conduct studies on Earth’s geomagnetic field.
As part of Scripps’ ongoing commitment to research and education, the institution is developing a “Scripps layer” in Google Earth, which will detail the hundreds of Scripps-related ocean and earth science research projects taking place around the planet. Scripps scientists can be found on every continent and in every ocean as they collaborate on research with colleagues throughout the United States and in 65 nations in search of scientific answers that will shape the future of our planet.
“Google Earth’s expansion into the ocean offers tremendous opportunities to educate the public about the challenges facing our planet, of which 70 percent lies underwater,” said Tony Haymet, director of Scripps and vice chancellor for Marine Sciences at UC San Diego. “This expansion provides scientists with an innovative platform to further advance scientific understanding of the world’s oceans and to organize and make accessible our increasing knowledge of the ocean for the public and scientists alike.”
— Annie Reisewitz