April 18, 2022

Tracking ocean expeditions while at sea with Google Earth

Posted by Laura Guertin

Oceanographers may head out to sea for as short as a few days or as long as a few months. One question frequently asked by family, friends and colleagues is, “where exactly are you?” I’m currently sailing on JOIDES Resolution for Expedition 390, and my response of “South Atlantic Ocean” is somewhat helpful but certainly not narrow enough of a scale to point to a location on a map. I decided to utilize the browser-based version of Google Earth to provide a better picture of our position during this two-month expedition.

On JOIDES Resolution (JR) we are provided a Daily Operations Report (DOR) since we left port in Cape Town, South Africa. This document is reported as of 2400 the previous day and contains information such as transit distance/speed/time, weather, drills/exercises, etc. The DOR also contains the GPS coordinates of the ship’s midnight location (we are following SAST (South Africa Standard Time)). I have been jotting down these locations and generated a file with placemarks for each day. Within these placemarks are one photo and a short description of something that took place in the prior 24 hours.

Below are screenshots from the Google Earth interface I created, and here is the URL to access it: https://bit.ly/EXP390location


Google Earth screenshot

Screenshot of Google Earth interface early in Expedition 390, showing the daily midnight location of JOIDES Resolution


Google Earth screenshot

An example of what is contained in a Google Earth placemark for the daily JR locations


The informal feedback from using Google Earth to communicate our daily location has been very positive – especially from the family members of those on board. I am also using the link to this Google Earth file to send to teachers and community groups before we connect for ship-to-shore broadcasts so individuals can get a sense for where we are currently located and learn a bit about what has happened on our journey, from sampling cores to engaging in an Easter bunny candy hunt on Easter Sunday.

For those that head off to do fieldwork, especially on the ocean, I encourage you to think about creating your own Google Earth file with daily updates to keep other engaged and informed about your work.

For those interested in learning about the other Google Earth files I’ve created for Expedition 390, see Using Our Google Earth Files on our Educators Resource Page for Expedition 390. You can also explore to learn more about JOIDES Resolution Expedition 390 – South Atlantic Transect I and check out our expedition blog posts at the bottom of the page.