New from Google: Maps of the sea floor, earthquakes, polar bears

New from Google: Maps of the sea floor, earthquakes, polar bears

Before MapQuest and Apple Maps and Google, my family had a printed world atlas bound in burgundy leather. The thing was as big as a card table and had to be kept on the top of the bookshelf, but it came down often to help with homework and indulge travel fantasies. The maps in the atlas were incredibly detailed, but they weren’t just about geography. There were historical maps. Geopolitical maps. Thematic maps of all sorts.

This week that old atlas and its kind – the scores of printed maps that have long since been forgotten atop the shelf – found new life in a partnership between National Geographic and Google. Google has launched a special section of Google Maps that’s devoted to The National Geographic Society’s massive collection of thematic maps. The Gallery features more than 500 maps, everything from medieval England to the floor of the Indian Ocean, 1984 Japan, and Beginner’s US Education (for the kids). According to reports, the maps are all being integrated into Google’s search results.

The NatGeo gallery is part of a bigger Google Maps project that makes it possible for businesses, governments, and nonprofits to make their mapping data publicly accessible for the first time. “Maps Gallery works like an interactive, digital atlas where anyone can search for and find rich, compelling maps,” Google says. Apart from the National Geographic Society, users can now see maps of seismic activity, wildfire events, and seasonal sea surface temperatures from the United States Geological Survey; finance and population-themed maps from the World Bank Group; maps of the City of Edmonton; and maps of power outages and evacuation information from the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

As if that wasn’t enough, Google Maps just introduced imagery of the Polar Bear Capital of the World (aka Churchill, Manitoba) on Google Street View. With some patience and a keen eye, you might just get a rare glimpse of the bears in their natural habitat.

Got a keen eye? Google Maps will show you a polar bear

Got good eyes? Google Maps will show you a polar bear

Much as I loved that old atlas, I can’t resist the draw of Web cartography. Fellow map enthusiasts, fire up your laptops. There’s a whole world out there to see.

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