Google Earth is always a bit of a curio—appealing to the voyeur inside all of us a little, as well as tapping into some vague educational vein. It's just got a whole lot more curious though, with under-sea and WWII layers that'll really appeal to academics.
Predictably Google's touting the new oceanic layers with the line "anyone can be a desktop Cousteau" but that doesn't detract from how interesting the new material actually is. Essentially Ocean Showcase is a part curated tour of the World's ocean floors, courtesy of National Geographic, and with videos by NG's Sylvia Earle. There's data from NOAA, information about fishes, whales and more sporty info on dive sites and surfing from suppliers like wannadive and wannasurf, and even data on World War 2 wrecks on the sea floors.
It's a multi-featured new option in Earth and it's got undeniable educational value. But perhaps not quite so much as the other new layer Google's just unveiled for Earth: World War II historical imagery. This new layer exploits many surveillance photos that were taken of key locations around Europe by different national air forces. It's most interesting, of course, to look at locations like cities, to see how bombing from opposing forces affected the landscape—Google's highlighting how Stuttgart, as an example, was subjected to more than 50 disastrous air raids, and you can compare its wartime photos to the present-day ones to see how the city was damaged, and then renewed (see one image below.)
The clever bit is that Google's got several different pieces of data for many of these sites, so you can compare, say, Warsaw in 1935, 1945 and today. It's fascinating, and as Google notes it's a powerful way to "remind us all of the devastating impact of war" on the people of these places.
What's all this new data really for though? Google's not exactly making serious money out of Google Earth, as it's not much of an advertising-rich zone. We're guessing the company's trying to position itself as an important educational resource, with a slightly altruistic bent to these two new enterprises. Or Google's just trying to attract some public attention in a week when most eyes are looking at its new arch-rival Apple. On the other hand, as a user it's also perfect fantasy material to let you recreate moments from The Abyss, Austin Powers (sharks with lasers!) or Dambusters. And I bet you're whistling that theme tune now in your mind.