Toolbox: Google Ocean Enables a World of Marine Stories

November 9, 2011

Many environmental reporters cover ocean-related stories eventually. You say your editor won't pay expenses to send you to Hawaii to set sail through the Pacific Garbage Patch? Overcoming the limited budgets for travel and visuals on such stories has just gotten a lot easier with the advent of Ocean, a new feature of Google Earth. You can take an underwater tour today without changing into a wet suit.

Google Ocean is more than just another layer of detail to overlay on Google Earth. It's a whole realm, and a whole new way of telling stories. Consider that old sea-voyage tale called The Odyssey. Ocean is like a stage on which you can tell almost any story you want.

Of course, you have to install it first. For that, start here. You need to download Google Earth 5, and it helps to download Google Chrome, although you can use Ocean via a plug-in on other browsers like Firefox.

For a quick demonstration tour, go to the Ocean showcase. Click on one of the tours offered, and then click the play button. It's cooler in full-screen. Try the Ridge 2000 tour of deep-sea volcanic vents, or the Cousteau Ocean World tour featuring torch divers. Once you are in Google Earth, open the sidebar and make sure you have opened the layer menu marked "Ocean."

Google Ocean allows you to place your story in the context of many mapped layers of ocean features, as well as a realistic rendition of subsea and above-surface views. Whether the map is of shipwrecks, marine protected areas, hydrothermal vents, or many other features, it can provide way-points for the journey that is your story.

More importantly for storytellers, though, is that Google Ocean allows you to add your own text, photos, images, video, narration, sound clips, and multimedia — and to literally spin the globe and point like a geographer recounting an expedition. And as Ocean accumulates a database of stories using it, the medium will grow richer.

One of the most accomplished users of Google Ocean — and a role model for storytellers learning how — is the Mission Blue project of the Sylvia Earle Alliance. Go to their site for some great examples. If you have questions or want guidance, content manager Charlotte Vick is a good person to contact, 415-693-3177.

You can find a gallery of projects already done with Google Ocean here. You will find NOAA charts, kite-surfing spots, Arctic sea ice, dead zones, sea-level rise animations, and tsunami wave models, to name only a few.