Jules Verne has taken countless armchair explorers to the depths of the sea via their imaginations. Now, Google Ocean allows anyone to dive deep down and explore the ocean floor. Zoom along the 10,000-foot-high Mendocino Ridge off the U.S. West Coast, visit the enormous Hudson Canyon off New York City, or witness magma explosions from the underwater Mata volcano in the South Pacific.
Developed by oceanographers at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the new feature incorporates data from numerous agencies and research institutes to provide virtual access to volcanic ridges, towering peaks, wide plains, and deep valleys on the five percent of the seafloor. While five percent may not sound like a whole lot, it's an area larger than North America.
“In spite of the importance of the oceans for life on earth, the landscape beneath the sea is hidden in darkness and poorly mapped,” said William Ryan, an oceanographer at Lamont-Doherty who, along with Suzanne Carbotte and their team, created the system used to generate the imagery. “While we can map the surface of planets from spacecraft in a single mission, to obtain comparable detail of the hidden seascape requires visiting every spot with a ship.”
Studying the seafloor allows researchers to map earthquake faults and track underwater landslides—which can have major consequences on land if they trigger tsunamis, like the one that hit Japan earlier this year. It also helps scientists learn more about volcanic eruptions—the vast majority of which occur far beneath the surface on the ocean floor (check out the video above, which includes footage of an underwater volcanic eruption, and other awesome things found at the bottom of the sea, like the enormous "Godzilla" hydrothermal vent and bacteria blizzards). On your journey, you'll encounter more than 1,000 photos and videos. Dive in!
When dead whales sink to the seafloor, their enormous carcasses give life to mysterious worlds inhabited by an assortment of bizarre creatures.
Forget the white mass of a typical iceberg. The real spectacles are rare jade and striped icebergs.
An interview with ocean advocate Philippe Cousteau, Jr.