If you want to get anything done today, then you don't want to check out the new Google Maps "Street View" of various coral reefs around the world, including the Great Barrier Reef.
On Tuesday, the company unveiled the project, which incorporates into "Street View" stunning photographic images of coral reefs from the Great Barrier Reef, Hawaii and the Philippines. It can help scientists study reefs remotely and let computer users the world over ooh and ahh from non-tropical or landlocked locations.
Locations so far included are Australia's Great Barrier Reef near Heron Island, Lady Elliot Island and Wilson Island; Hawaii's Hanauma Bay and Molokini Crater; and the Philippines Apo Island. Bermuda is soon to be added.
How they made it
Teaming up with scientists funded by the Caitlin group, a Bermuda-based insurance firm, Google designed a submersible outfitted with three wide-angle lenses that could take high-resolution (24-megapixel) photographs in low light.
The cameras took shots from each lens every four seconds, in order to create 360-degree views as the sub glided along the reef at about 1-2 miles per hour.
"It's about creating a global reef record - something that has been missing and something that is very much needed. We simply don't have historical records to monitor change on a broad scale. Scientists from around the world will now be able to study reefs remotely and very clearly see how they are changing," Richard Vevers, the project's director, told BBC News.
The project will enable researchers at the University of Queensland's Global Change Institute to study how the reef habitat changes over time: They'll begin by using image recognition software to identify the sea creatures in the photographs.
"It's analysing the health of the reef in terms of species distribution, and mapping that against the structure of the reefs to discover what reefs are important," Mr. Vevers told the BBC. "When we start working with those two data sets it could prove to be hugely valuable in working out which are the areas that need to be protected."
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