New View of Ocean Floor in Google Earth

Google has released a new rendering of the ocean floors around the world. The ocean floor is colored to reflect the terrain features of the sub-sea surface. The new rendering is a bit higher resolution (much higher in places) and is presumably more accurate than the previous version. According to the copyright messages the new ocean floor is coming from “SIO, NOAA, US Navy, NGA, GEBCO“. These entities are dedicated to getting the best ocean floor surface data they can. You don’t have to do anything special to see the new ocean floor, just open up Google Earth (it’s not visible in Google Maps yet). Unfortunately, the new ocean floor in Google Earth is NOT 3D – yet. This could be the first part of the release of new data for the rumored “Google Ocean“. Hopefully, we’ll see a 3D version someday.

[UPDATE: As someone pointed out in the comments, some island atolls which had low resolution data look less “visible” in the new imagery. Particularly noticeable are the Maldives, also St. Helens, Montagu Island, and many other islands now show “floor” instead of the islands. I have to agree with the sentiment of the commenter. Although Google has tried to at least show those portions of the atolls which have above water presence. In my opinion it is very important to show satellite/aerial imagery any time you can see the undersea surface in addition to the land. If the bathymetry is visible through imagery, then show real photos! It will be helpful to mariners/boaters who use those waters who will then be able to see both undersea structure, and locations of anchorages (presence of other boats).]

Here is a comparison of the old ocean floor (as currently seen with Google Maps) verses the new look in Google Earth (click on the image for a larger view comparison):
Comparison of old and new Google Earth ocean floor imagery
In some areas – like near the shore of Puerto Rico – the ocean floor imagery shows higher resolution terrain data than in other areas. But, what many of us would like to see is 3D bathymetry (terrain) data as well! It’s all just a matter of time.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. i like the new high resolution terrain imagery for the oceans, but there is one thing i don’t like about this new update.
    in my country(Maldives) there were so many parts(of some Atolls) which only showed very very low resolution(you could only tell it is there), with this update it is completely gone. no imagery at all. the same goes with most of the atolls in the Pacific Ocean.

  2. The Gulf of Mexico BoarsHead Basin jumps out with the new rendering. This is what i enjoy most about gearthblog, always the latest and greatest updates.

  3. It may not be 3d but it looks a lot better than before and much more informative for a layman like me. Too bad the North Sea, largest bowl of water in my neighbourhood, still looks a little boring, but that’s probably just because it IS boring, in terms of, ehm, bathymetry.

  4. Weatherman says

    Peter Birch (Google Earth product manager) was at the American Meteorological Society meeting last week (Jan 15), where he was asked specifically about “Google Ocean” and he just said something to the effect of “I can’t talk about that.”

  5. It looks like most of the global bathymetry data may be from the new GEBCO_08 Grid with 30 arc-second spacing (approx. 1 km):
    The areas near the US coast are higher resolution (3 arc-second, approx. 90 meters), and appear to be from the NOAA National Geophysical Data Center’s Coastal Relief Model:

  6. This indeed is a mixed update, while the imagery looks much better its implimentation around islands/coast is sorely lacking, wrecking what little progress was made on atolls over the past few years in the period of one update.

  7. What a disappointment. That’s really not very good data (low resolution). Virtual Ocean it’s a lot better.
    In the Catalan Sea (Western Mediterranean) there is some inaccuracies, as four big submarine “mountains” in front of Ebro Delta that simply don’t exist. You can compare with data from my research group:

  8. As someone who deals a lot with boaters and ocean projects, I agree that some of the updates are a bit of a step backwards. I think where the ocean floor was visible, it should remain in the photos – a lot of my users really liked that. Since we’ve integrated the GE plugin into our site, we have hundreds of people now showing their ocean travels via GE. So while most of the new floor looks better and I would say the change is a general visual improvement, the details need to be restored.

  9. This is a backward, clumsily executed, and unwelcome change.
    It adds nothing to the continental shelves which seem to have been rendered as generalized ‘wallpaper’. But worse, it has removed images of islands completely. For example, in the UK the Isles of Scilly and the northern half of the Orkneys have gone. So place marks relating to land features now float in the pale blue sea. Not good.

  10. I see that others are unhappy about the images of the continental shelves, and perhaps I could add to my previous comment.
    The problem is not at the outer edges of the shelves, but in the shallower parts like the whole of the North Sea and English Channel where there is well charted and important to shipping undersea terrain, whereas GE has just rendered it with some vague ripples. By seemingly adopting a linear colour scale for depth they have seriously limited their scope to depict the continental shelves.

  11. Lake Michigan has become a periwinkle blob

  12. It is good to see Google Earth moving into the ocean. The deep ocean data come from a project called SRTM30_PLUS. Here is the web address.
    The site includes a place to comment on the data quality; negative comments are the most valuable. These comments will help us to improve the bathymetry for the next version. Actually Google is one version behind since they have V4.0 and the latest version published in September is V5.0 so a number of things have been fixed.
    David T. Sandwell
    Scripps Institution of Oceanography

  13. Ted Ripping says

    While this is cool, I’m still sad about losing all the satellite detail of the surface of the oceans. A few years ago, Google had beautiful maps of the ocean surface of the San Francisco Bay. You could see the tide lines, the waves, etc… not anymore. Blech. I suspect 2008 will be the year Google turns into the next Microsoft.

  14. Jeff Sherman says

    What is needed is another selection at the top which allows to switch from ‘satellite’ to ‘bathymetry’ which gives a high-contrast map (instead of just shades of blue), isobath labels, and an accurate depiction of depths in shallow waters. This would also be the natural lead-in to add other navigational overlays (from shipping channels, buoys, to EEZ boundaries).

  15. Rich Signell says

    Three comments regarding the new ocean data:
    1) When the ocean bathymetry does become 3D, I hope it’s possible to set the vertical exaggeration larger than the current limit of 3.0. Also I hope we see a new feature that allows the user to exaggerate the land differently than the ocean. In other applications we often display the ocean with 10x more exaggeration or more than the land. (e.g. factor of 1.0 for land (z>0), but factor of 10.0 for ocean (z<0)). The bathymetric variations in coastal waters are relatively slight compared to elevation variations in mountain ranges, but they are extremely important for a whole range of oceanographic issues, and therefore important to visualize.
    2) Regarding the bathymetry data used, SRTM30+ is great, but V4.0 that GE is using and the latest V6.0 still have track line issues that are being worked on. V1.0 in my opinion still works best IMHO for the US Coastal waters). But I assume that GE can easily update as new versions become available.
    3) I second the idea of having the user be able to select whether they want real imagery displayed over the ocean or imagery from sun-illuminated color-shaded relief from the bathymetry.
    Rich Signell
    US Geological Survey
    Woods Hole, MA

  16. For a virtual globe with a very detailed ocean that has real relief that can be tilted and exagerated and viewed in perspective try the free Java application created at Columbia University available at:
    The application requires a PC or Mac with a graphics card that can use the gl library. The application is built with NASA World Wind classes and its development is funded by the US National Science Foundation.

  17. The General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO) have released a new global bathymetric grid with 30 arc-second spacing — the GEBCO_08 Grid. This is now available for download alongside the GEBCO One Minute Grid from the British Oceanographic Data Centre –
    The GEBCO_08 Grid was generated by combining quality-controlled ship depth soundings with interpolation between sounding points guided by satellite derived gravity data. It is a continuous terrain model for ocean and land with the land data largely derived from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM30) data set –
    Should users identify grid artifacts we would be grateful for feedback.

  18. Aaron Sweeney says

    I would alert your readers to a feature request on Google’s website relating to this new bathymetry:
    I would suggest to anyone who has an opinion on this issue to add a comment at the above link and ‘star’ the issue so that your constructive criticism and feedback will be most effective at reaching the folks who can do something about changing things, namely the Google Maps/Earth API developers! I doubt they have a lot of time to surf the web for your input.

  19. Major Bering Sea islands (Pribilofs & St. Mathews) have been eliminated by the new ocean floor update. I would very much like to have these back.

  20. Paul Murray says

    It would be really useful to have a layer showing the age of the ocean floor as shown on the map published by the Nation Geophysical Data Centre.

  21. The atoll island issue isn’t just atolls really. If you look many of the islands to the west of Inchon, Korea are no longer visible.
    Definitely disappointing. I’d like the option to turn off the ocean floor and only show satellite imagery.

  22. This is a great shot by the satellite! I believe they should keep the higher resolution imaging as it would be more accurate. I think they are trying to make the image have a smaller size so they could store it longer.

  23. PhilipUpNorth says

    Just South of Puerto Rico on the ocean floor is what looks like a manmade excavation cut into the ocean floor. The cut runs East to West. In the underwater view, the sides of the cut appear to be eroded, which would make it old. At the west end of the feature, the cut curves to the South. At the East end, the cut continues on, but at a shallower depth.

  24. This is a amazing taken by the satellite! I believe they should keep the higher top top top quality image as it would be more accurate. I think they are trying to make the image have a compact scaly statistic so they could store it time.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.