Priscilla Jebaraj

Some innovative ideas in the cause of the planet

CHIDAMBARAM: Ever looked up your own home on Google Earth? Better still, sneaked a peek into your neighbour's yard? Here is an organisation taking things one step further: in a few years, you will be able to see through the grass and snoop around under your backyard (and your neighbour's) all at the click of a mouse.

This "Transparent Earth" project is part of the science initiatives of the United Nations' International Year of Planet Earth in 2008. Speaking on the sidelines of the Indian Science Congress, Ed de Mulder, the chair of the Commission on Planet Earth, explained that the project seeks to put together the geological surveys of all the world's nations. (In fact, an alternative name for the project is `One Geology'). It will stitch together a seamless map of the first few layers of the earth, offering a scale of 1:1 million.

"People would like to know `what's under my garden, or my city? Is it a safe place to build my house?'" said Prof. de Mulder, explaining the attraction of the project. However, unlike Google Earth, this will not be a photographic image, but rather a pictorial representation. That means you can see the exact location of clay or limestone, but not spot buried treasure.

Initially, only a few metres depth will be available for some areas, going down to 25 m in others. Only the continents are being mapped, leaving out the oceans.

This translation of the earth's crust into digital form will use Geological Information Systems (GIS) technology and could cost "tens of millions of dollars." The project is being co-ordinated in London, since the British Geological Survey is taking a lead role.

The project was only started six months ago, and is unlikely to be available online till 2011. Following Google Earth's example, a mixture of high and low resolution images will be used.

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