Google Earth 5.0, which was launched yesterday, has 3D content to describe underwater terrain and lets users browse ocean-related content contributed by top oceanographers and conservationists.
The Historical Imagery feature enables users to travel back in time using archival satellite and aerial imagery. Another new feature, Touring, makes it easy to create a narrated tour in Google Earth and share it with the world, and Google Mars 3D features high resolution imagery and terrain maps of the red planet.
Launching the software, former presidential candidate and now eco-warrior Al Gore said, the virtual diving experience it offered was a “magical experience”.
"The history lets you see for yourself the unprecedented pace of change taking place on the Earth – largely because of human influences. For example, you can watch the melting of the largest glacier in Glacier National Park – the Grinnell Glacier – image by image, for the last decade," he said.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt said the oceans were usually ignored in discussions on climate change, but were integral to it. "About one-third of the carbon dioxide that we emit into the atmosphere ends up in the oceans,” he said. “Furthermore, biodiversity loss in our oceans in the next 20-30 years will be roughly equivalent to losing an entire Amazon rainforest, but this goes unnoticed because we can't see it. This is why today's launch of Google Earth 5.0 is so important - it gives us an opportunity to change everyone's perspective."
The Ocean feature is on by default in the newest version of Google Earth. As users zoom in on the ocean they will see a dynamic water surface. Once they dive in, they can navigate 3D sea floor terrain.
The feature includes 20 content layers of information. These include a National Geographic Magazine geo-quiz and overlays from their new Atlas of the Ocean, and unseen videos from pioneering oceanographer Jacques Cousteau.
John Hanke, director of Google Earth and Maps, said it former cursory treatment of the oceans was a serious mistake he was happy to fix. This version had helped him understand the role the ocean plays in global climate change and the impact that humans have on the oceans and sea creatures. “We now have a good substrate for publishing and exploring data about the 'other' two-thirds of the planet."
With the History feature, users can activate a time slider to see both newer and older satellite imagery from around the globe. This lets them see a single location's development over time.
Touring is a simple new way for users to create narrated tours of imagery and content in Google Earth. By pressing the Record button, users can fly from place to place, zoom and click on content balloons that provide voice-over narration along the way.
Google Mars 3D is the latest stop on Google's virtual tour of the galaxy. Users can travel to Mars with the click of a button and see high resolution imagery and 3D terrain. They can fly to the top of Olympus Mons, the tallest volcano in our solar system, read geo-located excerpts about different locations on the planet from A Traveler's Guide to Mars, see where various Mars Rovers and Landers have touched down, and more.
Google has also made GPS Tracking, previously only available in the Plus and Pro versions of Google Earth, a standard feature. Now all users can upload tracks from GPS devices (including many Garmin, Magellan, and NMEA-compatible devices) to Google Earth, making it easy to visualise and record running, hiking and biking routes. It has also increased he number of languages it comes in from 26 to 41.