September 26, 2012 - 11:46 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Panoramic images of several coral reefs have been added to Google's Street View service in its maps, allowing users to navigate their way around the sites, according to BBC News.
The material was gathered by the Catlin Seaview Survey - a project studying the health of the reefs, including the impact of global warming.
The program's director said the effort would help scientists analyze ecosystems and raise general awareness.
Locations added to the service include Australia's Great Barrier Reef near Heron Island, Lady Elliot Island and Wilson Island, as well as Hawaii's Hanauma Bay and Molokini Crater and the Philippines Apo Island.
But while Google's engineers provided technical support to the project, the actual photography and stitching together of the images was carried out by scientists funded by the Catlin Group, a Bermuda-based insurance firm.
To do so, they developed a submersible fitted with three wide-angle lenses designed to take high resolution images in low light conditions.
The equipment took a 24-megapixel photograph from each lens once every four seconds to provide 360-degree views, as the rig moved over the reef at about 2-3km/h (1-2mph).
Previous studies have suggested pollution, destructive fishing practices and climate change have already caused major damage to many of the colonies of sealife colonies that were built up over thousands of years.
To analyze the new material, researchers at the University of Queensland's Global Change Institute are using image recognition software to identify the creatures recorded in the photographs, and 3D-modelling programs to monitor how the habitats change over time.