Then and now: This image compares two satellite shots of the same location in Thompsonville, MA. The low-resolution, black-and-white image was taken in 1995, before a housing development had been built on the central hill. The second picture, in color and with a higher resolution, was taken in 2008.
Former U.S. vice president Al Gore spoke at Monday’s press event about Google Earth’s potential as a conservation tool. Gore demonstrated another feature in Google Earth 5.0 that lets people access historical satellite imagery of certain locations. He spotlighted the famously retreating Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park, in Montana. Gore also said that Google Earth is an “important shift” in the way that people view information, allowing the average person to see how geographic locations have been impacted by climate change.
Other new features include Google Mars, which lets users fly over Martian terrain and explore landmarks such as Olympus Mons, the solar system’s largest known volcano. Additionally, Google Earth users can now create virtual tours, providing flyover views of locations with narration, videos, pictures, and text. And all Google Earth users can now upload coordinates from GPS devices to visualize a road trip or bicycle ride, for example. This feature was previously only available in the Plus and Pro versions of the software.
Since being released in June of 2005, Google Earth has been downloaded more than half a billion times. The software was originally called Earth Viewer and was created by Keyhole, a mapping company that Google acquired in 2004.
The engineers, scientists, and conservationists who worked on the latest version of the software hope that the new view of the ocean provided by Google Earth will educate people, inspire further research, and motivate conservation. So many natural resources have been lost already, says Terry Garcia, executive vice president for mission programs at National Geographic, which was involved in the Google Earth effort. “This new platform is going to allow us to show people exactly what is happening to the earth, and help us engage them, so we can start to recover some of our losses,” he says.