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Making Waves: Episode 15 (Feb. 6, 2009)

... You can now explore the depths of the ocean with Google Earth
... And scientists observe the ocean from space to predict outbreaks of cholera

Those stories are coming up today on Making Waves from NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

Starting this week, visitors to Google Earth can explore the depths of the ocean -- and there’s lots of new NOAA information and images out there to discover. Google Earth, for those of your unfamiliar with it, is a free tool that allows you to explore through maps and satellite images of our planet, through space, and now the ocean. You can download it as a stand-alone application or as a plug-in for your web browser.

The project is officially called "Ocean in Google Earth," and it adds new layers of information to the popular Earth exploration tool. In addition to the depth of the sea floor, it also displays information such as weather patterns, currents, temperatures, shipwrecks, coral reefs, and algal blooms.

NOAA contributed a variety of data and imagery to the project and will be continually adding new information.  Google explorers can pan through expeditions from the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, including a trip to the submerged wreck of the Titanic. You can also learn about marine debris and view ocean current maps from the NOAA Marine Debris Program that show marine debris moves with the current around the ocean.

Other NOAA contributions include information on marine protected areas, including NOAA’s 13 U.S. national marine sanctuaries and one marine national monument. These are highlighted in detail via underwater video footage, high-resolution seabed maps, and photography.  Data from NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center and seabed maps of U.S. coastal waters are also part of the Ocean in Google Earth.

The tool is great for amateur oceanographers and marine enthusiasts, and it also is a place for researchers to collaborate and share information – and that will help us all better understand the many issues affecting our ocean. 

If you’re using Google Earth and you spin the globe over to the Bay of Bengal – that’s the triangle-shaped body of water to the west of India – you’d be looking at the location of interest for our next story.

Several researchers tied to NOAA were part of a team who recently published a study in the November 2008 Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. And this study points to a new way to use satellite sensors to predict cholera outbreaks.

Dr. Rita Colwell led the study. She’s a distinguished scholar from the NOAA Oceans and Human Health Initiative and a professor at the University of Maryland at College Park. And two other members of the team are from NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Climate Studies, also located on the College Park campus.

Colwell and her team used various ocean observation sensors to measure chlorophyll, sea surface temperature, rainfall, and ground temperature in the Bay of Bengal.

They found that cholera outbreaks typically follow increases in sea temperature. And these higher temperatures lead to increases in phytoplankton.

The phytoplankton, in turn, serve as food for copepods, which are tiny crustaceans that naturally carry the cholera pathogen. As the copepods thrive on the abundant phytoplankton, they find their way into drinking water supplies along the coasts of nations that border the Bay such as India and Bangladesh.

In addition to predicting when and where cholera is likely to occur, Colwell and her team found that filtering drinking water through four or more folds of sari cloth—a material widely available in the region—helps to remove the copepods, which can reduce cholera by 40 to 50 percent.

This new model serves as a robust early warning system for cholera in many regions of the world, and is a useful tool for public health planning and decision making to implement warnings about drinking water contamination.

The study is also proving useful to other health early warning systems for U.S. seafood-related pathogen problems now in development by Oceans and Human Health Initiative-funded scientists and partners.

The Distinguished Scholars program builds NOAA's Oceans and Human Health capacity by bringing world-renowned scientists in to work with the Initiative center on cutting-edge science and its applications.


Our next episode will also have an Oceans and Human Health focus. We’ll be dedicating the entire episode to a symposium organized by NOAA’s Oceans and Human Health Initiative at next week’s annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago.

The presentation is called ‘Fighting the Rising Tide of Antibiotic Resistance: Causes and Cures and the Sea.’ At the symposium, a panel of government, academic, and non-profit scientists will present the latest research on the spreading, strengthening, and evolution of antibiotic resistance in the ocean, and promising new solutions and treatments from our undersea medicine cabinets.

That’s all for this week. If you have any questions about this week’s podcast, about the National Ocean Service, or about our ocean, send us an email at And don’t forget to check out the Ocean Facts section of our Web site. Have a question about the ocean that you’d like answered? Let us know.

Now let’s bring in the ocean....

This is Making Waves from NOAA’s National Ocean Service. See you next week.