In what could possibly be the biggest technological announcement since the moon landing, Google will today reveal the launch of underwater Street View for Google Maps.
This means that for the first time in human history, anyone with an internet connection will be able to take a virtual dive on selected sites on the Great Barrier Reef.
The Underwater Earth project uses data and imagery from the ground-breaking Catlin Seaview Survey project – a series of expeditions aiming to explore and survey the health of coral reefs worldwide.
Based at the underwater research station on Heron Island, the team has surveyed and captured the underwater environments of Heron and Lady Elliot Island and are currently anchored on the northern reefs of the Coral Sea.
Armed with cutting-edge cameras and underwater robots controlled by specially designed Samsung Galaxy tablets, the team are able to capture up to 50,000 panoramic underwater images and stitch them together into a navigable “reef view” panorama.
As well as enabling the casual punter to go for a virtual dive and learn more about the marine environment, the expedition will also make a significant contribution to our knowledge of the world’s oceans through a publicly available Global Reef Record database.
This database will enable scientists worldwide to monitor the health of coral reef systems worldwide and their response to climate change.
The project’s chief scientist, Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg from the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute calls the project a “game-changing scientific tool that scientists around the world will have at their fingertips”.
“They will be able to monitor change in the marine environment now and in the future,” he said.
“Marine scientists researching any aspect of the reef will be able to study these environments from any of the surveys we conduct.”
The first Catlin Seaview expedition launched on September 16 this year with 20 separate reefs on the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea scheduled for surveying before the team moves on to overseas locations in 2013.
The project is funded by international insurance company Catlin and University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute.
To take an underwater tour, go to:
Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef – http://goo.gl/maps/3mPy0
Lady Elliot Island, GBR: Dive in – http://goo.gl/kDcLN
Wilson Island, Great Barrier Reef: Dive in – http://goo.gl/maps/sluiY