From Crabs to Faultlines, 7 Ways Updated Google Earth Journeys to the Ocean Floor


Video: YouTube

The same downloadable Google Earth program that lets you check out the mountains of Tuscany where your grandfather grew up and scope out the backyard of that house you're considering buying can take you underwater, too: The recently updated Google Earth includes maps of underwater topography that show off massive mountain ranges and volcanoes, while scientists at Ridge 2000 added a tour that takes you around the ocean to hydrothermal vents, sealife, and fields of plants.

1. East Pacific Rise



Screenshot: Google Earth

The Pacific Ocean's East Pacific Rise is a chain of volcanoes that run parallel to South America with peaks as high as 9,000 feet.

This point on Google Seafloor includes a look at one specific area of the rise, where tectonic plates are slowly separating -- transforming faults that run across the edge of the rise.

2. Galatheid Crab

Screenshot: Google Earth

This Galatheid crab -- also called a squat lobster -- makes its home on the East Pacific Rise, although the species is found all over the world.

Since they thrive on bacteria, they congregate near the hydrothermal vents and, though it looks large here, they often are only about four inches long according to the University of Delaware.

3. Hydrothermal Vent

Screenshot: Google Seafloor

Some of the marked points on the seafloor trade high-quality images for fascinating videos, like this one of a hydrothermal vent.

Hydrothermal vents, once believed to be silent, are fissures that appear in areas near ocean basins or plate movements, and which release geothermally-heated water into the ocean. The minerals that build up when the water meets the ocean can solidify and stack on top of each other, reaching up to 200 feet high.

4. Seastars

Screenshot: Google Seafloor

The closeups can also give viewers a unique look at the plants and animals that make their home on the seafloor -- like these seastars spotted in the Lau Back-Arc Basin in the Western Pacific Ocean.

You're more likely to find these creatures on vents that are no longer active.

5. Kilo Moana Vent Field

Screenshot: Google Seafloor

These stacked barnacles were photographed on the Kilo Moana vent field -- part of the Lau Bain -- and are just one more of the amazing examples of underwater life found near the vents (though this batch is growing on a cooled vent rather than a live one).

According to the Sylvia Earle Alliance, these barnacles don't move, so they "extend arm-like appendages out of their shells to catch food."

6. Mariner Vent Field

Screenshot: Google Seafloor

Another close-up of a hydrothermal vents -- this time in the Lau Basin's Mariner field -- offers an even better look at these natural wonders. In this area, the vents grow as high as 78 feet and, the caption points out, are unique among other fields because the surrounding sea life is much less diverse than in other parts of the ocean.

7. Sully at Juan De Fuca Ridge

Screenshot: Google Seafloor

The Juan De Fuca Ridge, a 300-mile long stretch of underwater volcanoes found off the coasts of Washington and Oregon, allows for a world of thriving bacteria and lifeforms -- like these colorful tubeworms.

The website for the Marine Conservation Biology Institute says this about the Sully vent, shown here:

Created by the separation of the Juan de Fuca Plate and the Pacific Plate, the Juan de Fuca Ridge is home to an extraordinary community of life whose source of energy is not the sun, but sulfur-rich chemicals. Deriving energy through chemosynthesis, bacteria form the basis of a deep-sea food chain that supports unusual creatures such as red-and-white tubeworms, deep-sea crabs, and mussels.

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Tags: Biodiversity | Oceans

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