The future of environmentalism seems to be in Google's hands. With Google Earth 4.0, we had a way to visualize and better understand the many impacts our society has in various parts of the world, for instance the rate of deforestation, water shortages or wildlife habitats. Now Google Earth 5.0, in addition to many other cool features, has added a complete virtual map of the underwater world.
I'm convinced that technology holds a key for us to gain a deeper, richer and more emotionally engaging connection to nature. As I talked about in Environmentalism 2.0(can the internet save the planet?), the key to promoting much-needed nature conservation efforts is to help people establish an emotional connection with the many distant places on earth that need our help. As long as a place remains vague in our minds, it is hard to get excited or motivated enough to contribute towards its restoration.
As vast and mighty as the ocean seems, it is in fact quite fragile and contains many marine ecosystems that are on the brink of collapse. And this should be of great concern. Sylvia Earle, a leading marine scientist, calls the oceans "the Earth's life support system." She is the featured narrator for the new Google Ocean layer, which contains a zoomable underwater map of all the major oceans as well as highlight points. By clicking on a point, you can see photos, video or information about a particular underwater locale.
In case you haven't played with Google Earth yet, you will need to download the software to your desktop. It's a little clunky at first but, on the lower left you will see "layers." Just make sure the ocean layer in checked. This will allow you to zoom down into the ocean. Once you hit the bottom, it flips the view forward. Then pan back by holding down the left-click while dagging up (forward) or down (backward). Its not very photorealistic. Only the base topography of the ocean has been added, so you want see cool creatures swimming around...yet.
But as you zoom around through underwater canyons and around little pacific islands, you can imagine that with time, people will add more layers featuring marine life common to specific areas at specific times. So soon we could have an interactive, virtually swimmable three-dimensional version of the mysterious world of the deep ocean.
For some cool video from deep under the ocean check out this lecture by two marine scientists from the TED conference:
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