Google already has Google Earth and Google Sky but soon we can also expect a 3D oceanographic map from the firm. The tool is nicked Google Ocean and scientists are excited as it would be incredibly useful to improve our understanding of the bottom of the ocean.
The tool--for now called Google Ocean, the sources say, though that name could change--is expected to be similar to other 3D online mapping applications. People will be able to see the underwater topography, called bathymetry; search for particular spots or attractions; and navigate through the digital environment by zooming and panning. (The tool, however, is not to be confused with the "Google Ocean" project by France-based Magic Instinct Software that uses Google Earth as a visualization tool for marine data.)
Asked to comment on Google Ocean, a Google spokeswoman said the company had "nothing to announce right now."
Oceanography researchers, however, say such a tool would be incredibly useful.
"There is no real terrain or depth model for the ocean in Google Earth," said Tim Haverland, a geospatial application developer at the Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). "You can't get in a submarine and in essence fly through the water and explore ocean canyons yet."
Google Ocean will feature a basic layer that shows the depth of the sea floor and will serve as a spatial framework for additional data, sources said, adding that Google plans to try to fill in some areas of the map with high-resolution images for more detail.
Additional data will be displayed as overlying layers that depict phenomena like weather patterns, currents, temperatures, shipwrecks, coral reefs, and algae blooms, much like the National Park Service and NASA provide additional data for Google Earth and Google Sky.
"Google will basically just provide the field and then everyone will come flocking to it," predicted Stephen P. Miller, head of the Geological Data Center at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. "There will be peer pressure to encourage people to get their data out there."