updated 1/18/2011 12:47:58 PM ET 2011-01-18T17:47:58

Want to explore the deepest canyons of the Pacific Ocean? There's an app for that.

EarthObserver, a new mobile application for the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, provides simplified access to vast libraries of images and information that until now were accessed mainly by earth and environmental scientists.

The app allows users to get in-depth looks at Earth's geological features, forces and phenomena everywhere from the bottom of the ocean to the planet's atmosphere.

Users can zoom into and explore meandering ocean trenches, see tectonic plates and their rates of movement, call up histories of earthquakes and volcanoes, even access maps of cloud cover, permafrost or rock types.

"This exposes the public to far richer data than have ever been available, in a form that has enormous potential beyond the flat screen of a computer," said William B. Ryan, a marine geologist who directed the project at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

"It takes what traditionally has been in a big atlas with a complex legend and allows you to just tap your way in," Ryan said in a statement.

The application comes with overlays of political boundaries, as well as topographical maps of the United States suitable for planning hikes.

Many datasets are updated monthly as new information comes in from satellites, research ships and other sources.

For a limited time, EarthObserver is available for free download in the education section of the Apple app store. The app eventually will retail for a small fee.

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