A real-time 'Seaview' of the Great Barrier Reef

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) --- Google's Street View makes it possible for Internet users to travel virtually to the peaks of mountains, the depths of the Amazon rainforest and the halls of famous art museums (maybe it's time to change the name from Street View?).

Now the tech giant is going to help a scientific research group broadcast images of an unprecedented, robot-enabled expedition to Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Called the Catlin Seaview Survey, the research project will use 360-degree cameras to film the reef in an unprecedented way, traveling from the surface to depths of more than 300 feet, the group said in a press release Thursday.

Some of the images will be broadcast live on Google's social network, Google+. The group also plans to release thousands of "360-degree underwater panoramas, which, when stitched together, will all people to choose a location, dip underwater and go for a virutal dive at all of the locations visited by the expedition."

    The aim of the project is both to drive public awareness and to increase scientific understanding of the reef, which is threatened by climate change. The images will act as baseline data for further study of how warming ocean temperatures affect one of nature's greatest wonders.

    In a statement, Catlin's founder, Stephen Catlin, wrote:

    “We are sponsoring the Catlin Seaview Survey so that experts obtain objective scientific data they require to make more reliable conclusions about the impact of climate and environmental changes on our oceans and our planet as a whole. The results will be broadcast on a scale never attempted before, so it is an exciting time for science. We’re proud to be part of the team leading this pioneering project.”

    The group has created an impressive website with information about the effort. Google is also said to be developing a YouTube channel to host videos from the expeditions, which will begin in September. Catlin, an insurance company, is sponsoring the project in collaboration with the non-profit Underwater Earth. A researcher from the University of Queensland is "chief scientist" on the effort.

    CNN's Phil Han spoke with a researcher behind the project, who said that citizen scientists will be able to help with the research by submitting virtual measurements of the coral they see on their screens. Check out the interview and a visual tour of the reef and how this project will work in this video:

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