Google has expanded its virtual-mapping software franchise, and a researcher at the Nicholas School of the Environment helped the Silicon Valley giant find its way. Pat Halpin, director of the Marine Geospatial Ecology Laboratory and an expert on using geospatial technology to map oceans and marine life, played a key role in developing content for the new virtual mapping software, Ocean in Google Earth.
In February, Halpin joined Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, and environmentalists, including former Vice President Al Gore, at the launch of the new software at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
The software uses images obtained from satellite imagery, undersea photography, and global information system 3-D technology to enable users to "dive" beneath the surface of the sea and explore the ecosystems, species, and geologic features found there. Halpin served on Google's advisory council as a representative of the Census of Marine Life (CML), a network of researchers in more than eighty nations engaged in a ten-year scientific initiative to assess and explain the diversity, distribution, and abundance of life in the oceans.
For the past year, Halpin oversaw the incorporation of images, geospatial data, maps, videos, and narratives from CML explorations into 129 "virtual expeditions" now accessible to the public. These expeditions allow users to see life forms from some of the remotest places on the planet and to read about the scientists who discovered them.
Navigating the CML content in Ocean in Google Earth, it is possible to come face to face with a collection of bizarre undersea creatures, including fifty species of Arctic jellyfish, a colossal sea star, and Antarctica's biggest amphipod. With merely a click and a drag, users can follow as scientists explore the hottest hydrothermal vent ever discovered or a new ocean environment created by an ice-shelf break the size of Jamaica.