People seem fascinated by the prospect of purchasing virtual real estate at Second Life, but if you ask me, Google Earth is a better place to stake your claim. For instance, I am studying deep sea-fans, or gorgonians, in the West Atlantic twilight zone between 50-150 m. Many of these have their first description in the reports by Wright and Studer (1889) of the HMS Challenger expedition 1873-1876. This expedition is a piece of history that could come alive again in a “Google Ocean” environment.
The main difference between then and now is that 19th century biologists studied dead and broken colonies dredged or trawled from the abyss, while modern scientists use submersibles and ROVs to study the organisms in their natural habitat, in all their living splendor. An online expedition in Google Earth today could incorporate georeferenced text, photos, audio, and live video, plus graphics and animation to help illustrate these bizarre and fascinating benthic habitats.
The original species descriptions for my gorgonians are microscopic, lacking any knowledge of community ecology. Species are well illustrated, but the descriptions are quite dry. We have no idea what these animals looked like when they were alive. This is necessary so we can identify them in-situ. So, I’m seeking historical background to put the Challenger observations in context.
Like a modern guy, I quickly turn to Amazon for background material (books) and Google Earth for a visualization (maps). As a deep-sea biologist, the first thing I need to know is “where did the HMS Challenger collect their samples, exactly”? This a simple map based function. The chances I will find the Challenger Expedition on Google Earth are good, actually, thanks to “Hill” a “Master Guide” at Google Earth, and a professed Google Earth “addict”. He’s uploaded and georeferenced the maps at this site here so I can tell at a glance where they’ve been, and where they’ve not.
You may search the H.M.S. Challenger Library at 19th Century Science. I see lots of room for improvement to this unique format and presentation, but it makes me wonder, how can I see more of this kind of thing on Google Earth? Where will it develop and grow? And, when was the last time we sent a ship around the world collecting deep-sea samples for such a broadly interdisciplinary group of scientists?