6 Mind-Blowing Discoveries Made Using Google Earth
Since Google Earth hit the Web in 2005, besides instantly turning all office desk globes into decorative accessories, it has opened the world up to global exploration at the click of a mouse.
But it's not just a neat toy; some extraordinary things have been discovered with its one-click access to satellite imagery. Things like ...
The Real-World Land of the Lost
From the non-PVP-enabled safety of their computers, British researchers were using Google Earth to look around Africa when they noticed a patch of forest on and around Mozambique's Mount Mabu that they didn't know was there. They soon realized they were looking at the largest rain forest in Southern Africa, and one that had previously been completely unknown to science.
It turns out that mountainous terrain and civil war had protected the region from the notoriously machine gun and mountain climbing averse scientific community. Meanwhile, its location in the center of an ocean of African savanna meant it was ecologically protected as well -- whatever species were living there had spent years evolving in complete isolation from any known jungle creatures. The scientists quickly booked a trip to check it out in person.
If movies have taught us anything, they're all about to be murdered by gorillas.
When they finally set foot on the hidden-in-plain-sight mountain forest in 2008, what they found was practically a bio-dome paradise for biologists and botanists alike.
That may not look like much to you, but all the mistletoe botanists out there just soiled themselves.
The result has been a treasure trove of new species -- the 27 square miles of lush forest have revealed pygmy chameleons, Swynnerton's robin, four new species of butterfly, pseudo-scorpions, crabs, monkeys, antelopes, rare orchids, giant snakes like the gaboon viper and a previously unknown type of adder, as well as entire colonies of rare birds. The list goes on like a yacht party with Noah.
Having evolved effectively in isolation, more new species are being discovered there to this day. In fact, it's getting to the point that whatever they pick up is new to science. Jonathan Timberlake, the original expedition leader, said of the discovery, "The phenomenal diversity is just mind-boggling."
"It only took us like a week to put a road through it."
Apparently the locals had kept their mouths shut about the pristine forest because they liked to hide there when things got too intense during their two-decade-long civil war that killed an estimated one million people. Yeah, that makes sense. We wouldn't have mentioned our very own Jurassic Park safe zone either.
We're certain this little guy is just waiting to spit poison tar in the cameraman's face.
Ancient Mammal Fossils
At a stonecutting yard in Italy, masons were cutting slices from a large chunk of Egyptian limestone (likely with a giant deli meat slicer) when they happened to notice they were apparently taking cross sections of a massive skeleton.
Recognized by a local expert as a whale that lived in Egypt 40 million years ago, word of the discovery eventually reached the desk of University of Michigan paleontologist Philip Gingerich, an authority on ancient whales. This was a major find, but where he needed to be was the spot where the fossil actually originated, in Egypt. The problem was no one at the Italian stonecutting shop had any idea where the slab of rock had come from, and tracing its origins was pretty much impossible. Gingerich's only clues were that it had passed through the Egyptian city of Sheikh Fadl and the vague assertion of a colleague in Egypt that the quarry was, we paraphrase, "Probably somewhere clear the hell farther East than that ...".
To Google Earth! Yes, with next to nothing to go on, Gingerich made like a modern day Indiana Jones and ... well, sat his ass down.
Secretary's ass is just one danger of modern excavation.
Using Google Earth, he scanned eastward of Sheikh Fadl until he found a range of limestone bluffs just begging to be turned into countertops. From the comfort of his office chair, he followed them east, looking for the sorts of roads that would be required to transport giant chunks of rock via truck. About 75 miles east of the city, he followed one such road to what looked like it might be a quarry. After hitting zoom and squinting at the screen for a few hours, he had friends in Egypt confirm that the road did in fact end at a limestone quarry. At this point, he finally hopped a plane, which we're sure involved a map and a line being drawn from Michigan to Egypt to a score by John Williams.
It's like if someone replaced all the car chases in Indiana Jones with staring at computer screens.
Upon arriving, Gingerich realized that ancient-whale watching probably wasn't going to happen. However, he did notice bands of red in the white limestone walls of the quarry, which he could tell were signs of loose soil blown into ancient caves. And he knew that ancient caves were ancient animals' favorite places to get trapped and preserved forever as the freeloading real estate squatters they were. After a quick look around, he realized this quarry was full of more tiny bones than a garbage bin outside Hooters.
Skeletons looked more like water damage back then.
The bones were the remains of small mammals that lived in the early Miocene Epoch, some 18 to 20 million years ago -- the first small mammal fossils that ancient to be found in Egypt. Even better, not only may they represent some of the first mammals to migrate from Asia to Africa when the land bridge between them first formed, but they may also even be the ancestors of the giraffes and elephants and everything else you'd see in a Disney movie underneath a baby lion being held over a cliff.
"Maybe Asia wasn't so bad."
If it weren't for Google Earth, they would be holding up bowls of pasta from inside of countertops across Italy right now.
A Way to Cheat at Fishing
While studying the west coast of Wales using Google Earth, archaeologists discovered something unusual in the waters off Poppit Sands, a small beach community near where the Teifi Estuary flows into the sea: a giant underwater "V" so precise it had to be either part of the most pointlessly huge emoticon ever formed or an ancient fish trap.
If only those poor fish had helicopters.
These underwater traps were once used to catch massive amounts of fish all at once by trading in the typical fishing boats and rods for some good ol' fashioned interspecies cheating. As the outgoing tide forced the fish along the walls to bottleneck right toward a single gap, nets could be placed there, or the gap could be blocked and the fish would basically catch themselves. This particular trap was over 280 yards long with walls 3 feet wide, making it one of the biggest of its kind ever discovered, and is estimated to be close to 1,000 years old. It likely caught a few fish in its day.
Fish have pretty much always been stupid.
In fact, these mass fishocide funnel contraptions were so good at their job that they were eventually banned in the Magna Carta from use in rivers, or anywhere else for that matter, except for along the coasts.
"Because screw coastal fish."
A New Human Ancestor
We're not experts in archeology, but when it comes to digging up bones, apparently caves are where it's at. Over the Christmas holiday of 2007, Professor Lee Berger was at his computer, looking around for caves with, you guessed it, Google Earth. Having noticed a pattern of cave and fossil sites in the region around the Cradle of Humankind near Johannesburg, he went on to identify 500 new possible places old bones could be buried.
Fast forward to August of 2008, where he was subsequently exploring one of his Google Earth finds in person with his 9-year-old son, the family dog and a post-doctoral student (take a guess on who was most likely wearing a red shirt on this away mission), when the dog ripped off into the high grass.
Chasing after his dog, the boy tripped over a log and fell smack dab into what some call "the Rosetta stone of human evolution." (Okay, it's totally Dr. Berger who says that.) What his son literally stumbled over would turn out to be an estimated 2-million-year-old fossil, part of a fossil pair belonging to a boy and an adult female, the likes of which had never been seen before.
Above: A small child, seen here outdoing Indiana Jones.
With a small, advanced brain, long arms, long legs and an advanced pelvis, Australopithecus sediba is described as probably a transitional species between Australopithecus Africanus and Homo habilis.
Geico is currently in talks with the remains.
The newly discovered species could even be a direct ancestor of Homo erectus, making it a possible "missing link" of sorts, located right at the transition point between an ape running around on two legs when not swinging in trees and humans as we are today.
That is, sitting in chairs.
Remains of Ancient Civilizations
While online looking at his town of Sorbolo in Italy via Google Earth, totally not looking for pictures of that girl who supposedly sunbathes naked in her back yard, Italian computer programmer Luca Mori happened to notice a prominent dark oval on the satellite maps over 500 yards long, with unusual shadowy rectangles nearby.
"This is obviously a burial ground for old Google doodles."
At first he thought they might be some kind of stain, like maybe a fly landed on the lens of the satellite. But it turned out the oval marked the former course of a long-gone river, and when he zoomed in, he found the rectangles were buried structures.
Real archaeology involves rather more buried rectangles than Arks of the Covenant.
It appeared to be the remains of a settlement of some kind, more specifically the remains of a villa or village. He contacted local archaeologists, who looked over the site and found ceramic pieces indicating it was a 2,000-year-old Roman villa.
"Mori's research is interesting in its approach," said an archaeologist at the National Archaeological Museum of Parma. Presumably this was quickly followed by a wanking motion and a questioning of all the time actual archaeologists have ever spent doing actual legwork.
"I wish my trowel had a 27" monitor."
The World's Best-Preserved Crater
An Italian researcher was surveying Google Earth images when he came upon something extraordinary in a remote area of one of the most difficult-to-explore deserts on the planet: the Sahara.
Is it a sandworm? It's a sandworm isn't it?!"
What appeared on his screen was something typically seen only on our own moon and other planets -- a meteorite impact crater 148 feet across. Since the Sahara is about as life-sustaining as the moon and other planets, the forensic evidence left by the crater was pristine. The telltale splatter pattern of ejecta rays -- bedrock scattered around the impact zone -- suggested an 8,000 mph collision with a 4.3-foot iron space pebble. The Kamil Crater, as it is called, may actually be the world's best-preserved crater, and it's estimated to be a mere few thousand years old. That's a baby in geological terms.
Crater? We hardly know her!
The space-pounded depression has left such an impression with scientists that the study leader remarked, "This crater is really a kind of beauty because it's so well-preserved that it will tell us a lot about small-scale meteorite impacts on the Earth's crust. It's so nice. It's so neat. There is something extraordinary about it."
"Thanks for noticing my new piercing. Only took you a few thousand years."
For things Google Earth will never find, check out 7 Lost Bodies of Work (That Would Have Changed Everything) and 7 Books We Lost to History That Would Have Changed the World.
And stop by LinkSTORM to see what Google Earth found in Soren Bowie's bathroom.
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