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Naval Oceanography, Google Share Information on the World’s Oceans

NGDC topography 15minThe National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) provides scientific stewardship, products and services for geophysical data describing the solid earth, marine, and solar-terrestrial environment, as well as earth observations from space. It is their work on the marine geophysical data or bathymetry that is of interest to me. Bathymetry is the study of underwater depth of the ocean floors. A bathymetric map or chart usually shows floor relief or terrain as contour lines (called depth contours or isobaths), and may additionally provide surface navigational information.

It is this information often shown in 3D that many of our marine chartplotter suppliers are using as a way of impressing us to buy their expensive chartplotters and other products. Of course the NGDC are not alone in adding value to all this data and the reason I started to look into the source and uses of this data was the announcement from Google of the extension of their Google Earth initiative to include bathymetric data

Most surveys of navigable waterways in the United States are performed or commissioned by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, for inland waterways, and the National Oceanic andAtlantic-trench Atmospheric Administration for oceans.

Coastal bathymetry data is available from the National Geodetic Data Center. Bathymetry data is often referenced to tidal vertical datums of MSL or MLW.

The picture on the right shows a bathymetric chart for the North Atlantic trench for example. All thanks to the US Navy sonar surveys – and the US taxpayer of course:-)

I am very excited by the news that the US Navy will share information on the worlds oceans with Google.

“….From Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command

STENNIS SPACE CENTER, Miss. (NNS) — The Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command (NMOC) entered a cooperative research agreement to share unclassified of information about the world’s oceans through the new version of Google Earth launched Feb. 2.

The unclassified bathymetric data sets, sea surface temperatures and ocean current US Navyinformation from NAVOCEANO are incorporated in the new version of Google Earth, launched today.

As part of the research and development agreement, the Navy has received Google Earth Enterprise licenses which provide for technical support that will enable the Navy to better search, view and prepare products from their extensive oceanographic data holdings…..”

This is one huge boost to the trend for many amateur and not so amateur people all over the world who have been laboriously trying to use a variety of data sources – and now Google Earth – to display bathymetric data for our ports and other areas of sailing interest.

People like Peter Minton who over the past year has mapped all the islands from Papua New Guinea to the west coast of South America. This is an enormous piece of voluntary effort that involved over 10,000 island polygons. For example, Ailuk Atoll is made up of 57 small islets or motus. To accomplish this Herculean task Peter used the software from Global Mapper and Landsat ETM+ as base imagery.

Have a look at Peter’s own web site here . I just love his slogan “Enhanced Vector Shorelines of the World – One Island, One Coastline, One River and One Lake at a time….”

People like Peter are not alone however …as this post from the Googleplex (Feb 2009) shows…

“…the latest release of Google Earth, making features like Ocean, Historical Imagery, and Touring available to Google Earth users everywhere.

We’re happy to open up these new worlds of exploration to our Enterprise customers, with new releases of Google Earth Pro and Google Earth Enterprise also available today. This is a tremendous advance for organizations who work on — or under — the Seven Seas, or who have archives of historical photos and data that they’d like to make more accessible to their employees.

People who use Google Earth Pro, the workplace edition of Google Earth, will see the new oceanographic data, historical imagery, and other features through their connection to Google’s public globe of satellite imagery, maps, terrain & 3D buildings. With today’s release of the Google Earth Enterprise 5.0 client, customers can start to realize the benefits by layering their own private data on top of the Google-hosted Ocean or Historical Imagery via KML. Google’s public data about the world’s oceans and images from the past should give a glimmer of what’s possible….”

This work is being master minded by Bryan Atwood, Product Manager, Google Earth Enterprise.

As you all know by now Google Earth provides a 3D view of earth that you can zoom in and out of, comprised of compositing satellite imagery into one skin. The counterpart to that product is the 2D Google Maps, which can be viewed from within a web browser. The KML specification developed by Keyhole, dubbed by Atwood “the HTML of the geographic web,” is an XML type format that describes geospatial data, which allows you to see your data on top of different platforms. Recently KML was submitted to OGC and will be approved in the next month or two.

Funded in 2000 by In-Q-Tel, a company that identifies and partners with companies developing cutting-edge technologies to deliver these solutions to the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Intelligence Community (IC), Keyhole was a separate company, acquired by Google in 2004. As a result of that purchase, in 2005 Google Earth was released.

In-Q-Tel is a CIA funded agency..

“..Throughout much of the last fifty years, the CIA has operated at the cutting edge of science and technology. From the U-2 spy plane to the CORONA satellite, CIA’s “wizards of Langley” earned a reputation for bold innovation and risk taking, working in advance of the private sector and other branches of government. Much of CIA’s technology success was a result of identifying gaps and opportunities….”

Naturally IQT partners with many other US Government agencies such as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and DoD’s Defense HUMINT Management Office (DHMO). now the Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center (DCHC).

This symbiotic relationship between the US Gov, Google and private enterprise is so interesting. And this post builds on my post that reminded us how dependant we are on the grace and favour of US Government agencies for good old HF radio…never mind GPS and the Internet itself !

I am not really that bothered that the US Govt is the funding source and the major source of the initiatives behind geospatial technology – combined with Google of course as a major channel to private enterprise and world wide adoption and, of course, dependence.

Have a look at the excellent work at this “visualize Singapore” blog called SinGeo. This just shows how data from Google Earth can be be used to greatly enhance many types of activity not only sailing using the coastal and bathymetric data now being made available.

Singapore marinachannelsc

The work being carried out by OGC to standardise the interfaces and KML scripting language and their strategic partner scheme that is helping to develop the businesses of companies such as PCI Geomatics will simply challenge the incumbents in our marine industry (yes, Raymarine! ) to up their game and also to reduce prices.

I am really just selfishly wondering how and when I will be able to get all this fantastic information on a device on my boat for Free…yes I am really that selfish…:-)


1 comment to Naval Oceanography, Google Share Information on the World’s Oceans

  • Fong

    Dear Sirs / Madam,

    I am interested to understand the depth of the South China Sea, that is, the measurement between the sea floor to the mean sea level.

    I do agree that this may vary but an average and approximate answer will do me fine.

    Is there a website that I can search for this sea bed contour ?

    Thank You

    Best Regards,

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