Google Earth Dives Deeper, Expands Ocean Feature

Google Earth Makes Sea Change, Expands Ocean FeatureGoogle Earth
The search giant's popular mapping too, which has done an admirable job charting the planet's land masses, announced this week that it's expanding its ocean feature. While it launched Ocean in Google Earth last year, yesterday Google said the ocean layer would be part of the default settings easily accessible to all Google Earth users.

Google Earth wants you to take a plunge into the planet's oceans.

The search giant's popular mapping tool, which has done an admirable job charting the planet's land masses, announced this week that it's upping its attention on the "blue part."

While it launched Ocean in Google Earth last year, yesterday Google said the ocean layer would be part of the default set of annotations easily accessible to all Google Earth users. That means once you open up Google Earth, all you have to do is navigate over to the oceans and zoom in.

VIDEO: Ocean on Google EarthPlay

Once you click on one of hundreds of placemarks, a box pops up with video, pictures and text describing the mysteries of the planet's oceans.

"We worked with more than 100 partners to begin to fill in the "blue" part of the planet, adding hundreds of placemarks in more than 20 ocean layers," John Hanke, vice president of product management for Google Geo, wrote Wednesday on the company's official blog. "Today, the layer will become part of the default set of annotations seen by all Earth users."

"Although a humble step given the dearth of information available about these vast expanses of geography, we are happy to take one more step to make the oceans a first-class part of Google Earth and to give them at least a starter portion of the thick soup of photos and places that describe the land part of the planet," he added.

VIDEO: Researchers find more than 5,000 new species in the deepest parts of the ocean.Play

To give the oceans – which comprise about 70 percent of the planet - more of a digital presence online, Google partnered with National Geographic, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

One of its key partners was the Mission Blue Foundation, which aims to create a series of marine protected areas called "Hope Spots." You can visit those areas and others by flying around Google Earth. has gone to the ends of Google Earth (and Maps) to explore some of these sights left behind by Google staffers, artists, Mother Nature and a few pranksters as well.

Here are a few other favorites.

Google on Moon

Not content to have become one of the most powerful information sources on this planet, engineers at Google recently conquered the Moon.

To mark the 40th anniversary this year of Apollo 11, Google's engineers partnered with NASA to add a new layer to their popular -- and free -- mapping program, Google Earth.

They inserted a detailed map of the lunar surface, as imaged by U.S. satellites. It becomes especially rich in material at the six sites where U.S. astronauts landed between 1969 and 1972, and where various robotic probes touched down in advance of Apollo.

To use it, one has to download the newest version of Google Earth, found HERE. It is separate from (and more detailed than) the lunar maps already found on the Google Web site; those have been there for about four years.

"I believe that this educational tool is a critical step into the future, a way to both develop the dreams of young people globally, and inspire new audacious goals," wrote Anousheh Ansari, the sponsor of the Ansari X Prize, and the first woman to travel in orbit as a space "tourist," on Google's blog.

"Finally, outer space doesn't seem so far away anymore."

Heart-Shaped Lakes and 10-Foot Snakes

Arizona's Oprah Maze

She's one of the biggest stars on the planet, so it only makes sense that she has a special place in Google Earth, too. Arizona's Schnepf Farms carves a maze with the outline of a famous person into its 10-acre cornfield each year around Halloween. Larry King, Jay Leno and Steve Nash are among the celebrities who have been recognized in this way. In 2004, Oprah Winfrey was the farm's celebrity of choice.

Heart-Shaped Lake

Google's Frank Taylor and Google Sightseeing's James Turnbull said there's a lot of love on Google Earth. They've compiled whole collections of heart-shaped things seen from space, as well as a handful of visible marriage proposals. This heart-shaped lake in Ohio is just one of several like it found by members of the Google Earth community.

Man Walking His Snake

Leon Kidd, 25, was photographed carrying his 10-foot boa Nibblez along a road in Norwich last summer, the U.K.'s Telegraph reported Wednesday. Norwich is one of 25 U.K. cities included in Google Street View, which lets users see cities and neighborhoods virtually from their computers.

Kidd, who owns five snakes, told the Telegraph that walking his boa is regular activity.

"I take her out nearly every day in summer in Earlham Park," he said. "A lot of people are surprised, others are curious and ask if they can touch her. She loves being taken out, especially going in the grass."

"I didn't even notice I was being photographed by the Google car," he said. "Then about three weeks ago my cousin phoned me and said I was in the newspaper."

Firefox Crop Circles

In a bid to generate some PR buzz for the Web browser in 2006, some Firefox fans made a gigantic Firefox logo in a crop field. According to the Google Earth blog, the project involved significant planning, building of the crop stompers, GPS devices and a helicopter (to capture the aerial photo). This crop circle is one of a large collection of crop circles visible through Google Earth.

Jesus in the Sand Dunes

In 2005, the Google Earth blogs were chattering about reports of the face of Jesus in Peruvian sand dunes. Some say they don't see the resemblance to Jesus Christ, but others still wonder about the origins of the hazy image.

Googling for Gold

Los Angeles musician Nathan Smith believes a 19th century Spanish galleon laden with gold and silver is buried on a ranch in south Texas. He is convinced he found its location using Google Earth.

The only problem now? If the ship does exist, it is buried on private property.

The family that owns the land doesn't want anyone digging up their property for a ship no one has proved even exists.

Citing Maritime Law, on Land

"It has been my experience, more times than not, a legend like this, there is some basis of truth," Smith said. "Because it has been around long enough that they have named it Barkentine Creek. That alone makes me think that there was, or is, something buried out there."

A barkentine is a kind of sailing ship.

Smith has brought the landowners to federal court in a case titled Smith vs. Abandoned Ship, and has argued he has the right under maritime law to dig up a ranch he doesn't own looking for a ship no one is sure exists.

Lost City of Atlantis?

Using the latest version of Google Earth, which allows users to peer under the sea, a British engineer believed he spotted the lost city of Atlantis off the coast of Africa, about 600 miles from the Canary Islands.

The image on Google Earth appears to show a grid-like pattern, which some have said resembles a planned city.

The ancient city was first mentioned by the Greek philosopher Plato, and legend holds it sank into the sea. The exact location of the city, and whether such a place even existed, has obsessed treasure hunters for centuries.

Google, however, had a much less exciting explanation for the undersea pattern.

"It's true that many amazing discoveries have been made in Google Earth, including a pristine forest in Mozambique that is home to previously unknown species and the remains of an ancient Roman villa," a statement from Google read. "In this case, however, what users are seeing is an artifact of the data collection process.

"Bathymetric [or sea-floor terrain] data is often collected from boats using sonar to take measurements of the sea floor," the statement added. "The lines reflect the path of the boat as it gathers the data."

Pool Dipping

In the summer, Google Earth helped British teenagers start a new craze: pool dipping. The cunning teens used Google Earth to find homes with pools and then organized pool parties using social networking sites. This led a police representative to tell the U.K. Telegraph, "We are advising owners of swimming pools to be on their guard and extra vigilant. We would also warn prospective swimmers that using someone else's pool is trespassing and therefore illegal."

Street Party

The street view in Google Maps typically shows the humdrum life of U.S. intersections and alleyways, but two Pittsburgh artists, with the help of more than 100 co-conspirators, threw a street party for the entire Internet in May 2008.

Timing various public performances along one street, Sampsonia Way, as a Google-owned car drove by snapping pictures, the artists, Ben Kinsley and Robin Hewlett, were able to create a montage of spontaneous performances.

Google had already shot its Pittsburgh street views, but agreed to come back to shoot the art installation. The company said it wouldn't guarantee that it would use the new images, but when Kinsley looked, there they were.

ABC News' Nick Watt contributed to this report.