Google has announced plans to incorporate 360 underwater views of Australia's Great Barrier Reef into its "Seaview" project, a service that will let Google Earth users dip below the surface for a virtual view of the world's oceans.
With amazing views of sea turtles, coral reefs and sunken ships, preview images released today offer a first glimpse into what users can expect from the Catlin Seaview Survey, a comprehensive environmental survey project being developed by the University of Queensland in partnership with insurance firm the Catlin Group and Google, Wired reports.
Starting in September 2012, experts will launch a scientific expedition of the reef using specialized cameras to capture tens of thousands of images of the reefs, which will then be stitched together to form 360-degree shots like the ones currently available on Google Street View.
The project will also have an official YouTube channel for live web streams of various underwater areas, according to Sky News.
Project engineers told New Scientist that the survey's goals are twofold: It will offer a way for anyone to explore the reef as well as give scientists the opportunity to learn more about the health of the reef to better develop programs and tools for preservation.
"For the first time in history, we have the technology available to broadcast the findings of an expedition through Google. Millions of people will be able to experience the life, the science and the magic that exists under the surface of our oceans," Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the survey's chief scientist, told New Scientist.
Experts are especially interested in using the technology to determine how climate change is effecting the Great Barrier Reef.
"The deep reef survey looks into the effects of climate change on one of the least known ecosystems on the planet – the deep-water reefs or mesophotic coral ecosystems (between 30-100m)," the team wrote on the project website. "It will provide a comprehensive study of the health composition and biodiversity of the deepwater reefs on the Great Barrier Reef as well as experimentally assess their susceptibility to increased temperature and climate change."
Check out the Catlin Seaview Survey website to try out a demo developed from images taken at Heron Island, a coral cay off the north-east coast of Australia.
Meanwhile, on land, Google's Street View mapping feature is known for capturing odd and mysterious sights. Check out our slideshow (below) for some of the strangest images ever found in Google Street View.