Google Street View goes to the Galápagos!

If you don’t live in, say, Ulan Bator, you’re certainly familiar with Google Street View, which aims to cover the world’s streets, trails, and interesting locations with special cameras mounted on cars, snowmobiles, and even human beings. (You can see a gallery of some of their nicest places here. Be sure to see the “world’s highest peaks” page  and especially the view of Everest from the adjacent peak of Kala Patthar, where I’ve stood twice and consider one of the three most beautiful views in the world (the other two are Macchu Piccu from above and Everest and Ama Dablam from the Thyanboche Monastery).

Wikipedia has a nice article on the process of photographing the world; here are two excerpts:

Google Street View displays panoramas of stitched images taken from a fleet of specially adapted cars. Areas not accessible by car, like pedestrian areas, narrow streets, alleys and ski resorts, are sometimes covered by Google Trikes (tricycles)  or snowmobiles.On each of these vehicles there are nine directional cameras for 360° views at a height of about 8.2 feet, or 2.5 meters, GPS units for positioning and three laser range scanners from Sick AG for the measuring of up to 50 meters 180° in the front of the vehicle.These are used for recording a rough 3D model of the surroundings, enabling faux-3D transitions between distinct panoramas where the environment images are momentarily mapped onto this 3D model while being crossfaded to create an animated perspective change as the user travels from one panorama to another. There are also 3G/GSM/Wi-Fi antennas for scanning 3G/GSM and Wi-Fi hotspots. More recently, high quality images have been based on open source hardware cameras from Elphel.

. . .Google Street View was introduced in the United States on May 25, 2007, and only covered areas of the United States until July 2, 2008. Images can now be seen in 48 countries, dependencies, and autonomous regions (although parts of other countries and dependencies can be seen from locations located near national borders; for example, large portions of Vatican City can be viewed from Rome’s street view). Introductions have generally occurred every 2 days to 100 days. Until November 26, 2008, major cities (and early on, the only cities) were marked by camera icons, more of which were added each time. Then, all camera icons were discontinued in favor simply of “blue” coverage, while other features have been added to make access to and use of the feature more user-friendly.

On June 6, 2012, Google announced that it has captured 20 petabytes of data for Street View, comprising photos taken along 5 million miles of roads, covering 39 countries and about 3,000 cities.

Here’s the coverage so far, which is a bit inaccurate because Nepal (home of Mt. Everest) is listed as having “no current or planned coverage.”

Picture 1Picture 2

But enough of that. The good neews is that Google Street View is doing the Galápagos Islands, so those of you who haven’t been can still get a virtual visit. An article by Rebecca Rosen that appeared last Thursday on The Atlantic‘s website notes that a week from yesterday the Google team returned to California after ten days on the islands, having photographed not only the terrestrial habitat and its creatures, but also the surrounding waters. This has a purpose beyond visual tourism: the photos can document changes on the island, monitoring the health of this fragile ecosystem.

Here are a few photos (and some information) from the Atlantic article.  The Google folks (with the help of the Charles Darwin foundation) walk the islands with back-mounted cameras:

Trekker 5 - corrected-thumb-570x380-122317

Daniel Orellana crosses a lava field in Bahia Carago, Isabela island. Bahia Cartago is a protected area and not accessible to tourists, but the Google team was invited in by the park service. (Google)

Trekker 4 - corrected-thumb-570x380-122313

The team documented sites on both land and sea, capturing sea lions, blue-footed boobies, and, hopefully, some of those fabled finches too. “Because the animals aren’t afraid of humans,” Raleigh Seamster of Google told me. “The person wearing the Street View Trekker was able to walk just within meters of these really amazing looking birds in their natural habitat. One of the things I’m really excited about is the hope that, in that imagery, Google Maps users will actually be able to zoom in on the blue webbed feet of the blue-footed boobies and really get up close to the unique wildlife.”

Trekker 2 - corrected-thumb-570x380-122319

Orellana climbs out of a lava tunnel where he was collecting imagery. (Google)

Here’s some underwater surveying:

1 SVII with Sealions1© Catlin Seaview Survey-thumb-570x377-122282

Chrisophe Bailhache of the Catlin Seaview Survey, a Google partner, navigates the underwater camera through a group of sea lions. (Google/Catlin Seaview Survey)

At Sierra Negra, an active volcano on Isabela Island, the team found itself in an area known as Minas de Azufre, aka the Sulfur Mines. To get there, the team had to take a van, a two-hour horseback ride, and then hike down side of the crater (with the clunky Street View backpacks). “Picture this: It’s almost like a moonscape. You’ve walked though prehistoric looking ferns, through this crater, and then you get to this moonscape area, where sulfur is just steaming out of the ground, and everything is dyed canary yellow from the sulfur, and it’s just this incredible place and you just feel like you’re at the end of the Earth.”

I was on the islands a while back, but I never got to see this amazing place:

Trekker 3 - corrected

Daniel Orellana of the Charles Darwin Foundation crosses a field of ferns on Sierra Negra, an active volcano on Isabela Island. It took the team hours to reach this site. (Google)

I have to say that when I went to the Galápagos as a lecturer on a Lindblad cruise, I didn’t expect that much. Having read about them so much as part of my job, I thought I already knew what I’d find.  But reading and imagining don’t come near the reality of these stunning islands: their barrenness that nevertheless tee,s with life, the eerie, lava-tinted landscapes, the tameness of the animals (baby sea lions will waddle up to you and nuzzle your feet, you can snorkel with penguins, sea turtles, and flightless cormorants, and the birds simply sit there calmly a few meters from you).  It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for both the jaded biologist and the nature buff.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Google will make the Galápagos images available online later this year, but they haven’t set a firm date.

h/t: Michael


  1. Alex Shuffell
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing, the rest of my day is sorted now. 🙂

    On the episode of ‘Inside Nature’s Giants’ (one of the most fascinating science shows ever) about the leatherback turtle, Mark Evans was describing that some of these animals can live to be over 200 years old, he says there may be some tortoises still living on the Galapagos that actually met Charles Darwin. It’s a very interesting thought, could it be possible?

    Here’s the episode –

  2. Posted May 28, 2013 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    What Alex Shuffell said. 🙂

  3. Jim Norman
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 7:32 am | Permalink uses Google Street View to eliminate my spare time.

    • Alektorophile
      Posted May 28, 2013 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      I checked that site out. I just wasted an hour of mine. Thank you…

      • SMF
        Posted May 29, 2013 at 8:00 am | Permalink

        And thanks from me too…

  4. Genghis
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    I had a week’s trip to the Galapagos about 8 years ago. Best holiday ever, without a doubt.

    • Genghis
      Posted May 28, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      I should add that covers 60 years.

    • Dave
      Posted May 28, 2013 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      Did same with #1 daughter in ’05. Couldn’t agree more. And, I have a tortoise stamp in my passport!!

  5. John Scanlon, FCD
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Obligatory xkcd comic. I particularly like the alt text.

    Would love to visit the Galapagos, but I don’t do tourism anymore and probably won’t get work there, so I’ll be looking forward to going by GE.

  6. Posted May 28, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Splendid. But a note on pronunciation: biggest city of Mongolia is best spelled “Ulan Baatar” to show a long “Baa” and then a short “tar”. Almost “Bahtr”. Root means “hero” and we paleontologists use it to praise tiny furballs in honor of colleagues, as in “Zofiabaatar”.

  7. Diana MacPherson
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Awesome. I wish I had that camera gig though I’d probably fall and wreck something (back or camera). 🙂

  8. Dominic
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    I hope they fuzz out the faces of the tortoises for data protection reasons! 😉

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 28, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      Ha ha!

    • Dave
      Posted May 28, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      Or, at least, their licence plates.

  9. Posted May 28, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    One of the times I can actually feel glad about being in South Africa, full Google Street View coverage. 🙂 Pretty much whenever I go somewhere I get directions from Google first. Sometimes I use street view to check out the visual landmarks as well.

  10. RFW
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    To claim that Google street view has “full coverage” of the US is, I regret to say, b.s.

    Check the coverage of any small town in Pennsylvania, and you’ll see that only major roads are covered. Example: Trout Run, at lat/long 41.383426,-77.056518

  11. een
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Man, what kind of projection is that world map using? It looks tilted away on the north-west and tilted towrds the viewer on the south-east.

    I’ve never seen Antarctica look like that on a map, nor New Zealand the same length as the western seaboard of the USA…

  12. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted May 29, 2013 at 3:19 am | Permalink

    I’ve just been planning a trip in the Alps and Dolomites, using some of the more remote roads, and Streetview is a marvellous tool. Even tracks that aren’t Streetviewed, you can often see some road sign at the junction which gives a clue whether they go through or not.

    And for some of the more remote passes, Youtube – just about every pass in the Alps has been traversed by some young German (usually on a BMW bike) with a camera on their head and they’ve posted the result on Youtube. 🙂

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