Scientists are embarking on a project to map the entirety of the ocean floor in high resolution by 2030.
Currently, only nine per cent of the world’s sea beds have been mapped in high definition – meaning we know more about the surface of other planet’s than we do the depths of our own world.
Scientists leading the ambitious ‘Seabed 2030’ project say it could reveal the presence of hidden mountains, trenches and even wreckage of ships and planes.
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The majority of Earth’s surface is covered with water (71 per cent) but less than one fifth (around 18 per cent) of the ocean floor has been mapped at all. Half of this used high-resolution imagery. Seabed 2030 is hoping to fix this lack of data by the end of 2030
‘If you go to the deep water, to the deep sea, right up in the centre of the Indian Ocean or the Pacific Ocean, you actually could miss entire mountains,’ team member Geoffroy Lamarche told ABC.
In 2005, a US nuclear submarine, the USS San Francisco, collided with an undetected underwater hill near Guam at full speed at a depth of about 500 feet (160 metres).
It injured 98 crew members and one died from injuries sustained in the crash.
The front of the submarine was so badly damaged it struggled to complete the ascent.
The majority of Earth’s surface is covered with water (71 per cent) but less than one fifth (around 18 per cent) of the ocean floor has been mapped at all.
Half of this used high-resolution imagery.
The UN-backed project is urging countries and companies to pool data to create a map of the entire ocean floor which will be freely accessible to all.
‘We obviously need a lot of cooperation from different parties – individuals as well as private companies,’ said Mao Hasebe, project coordinator at the Nippon Foundation, a Japanese philanthropic organisation supporting the initiative.
‘We think it’s ambitious, but we don’t think it’s impossible,’ Ms Hasebe said.
The project launched in 2017 and is expected to cost about £2.3 billion ($3 billion).
So far, the biggest data contributors to Seabed 2030 have been companies – in particular Dutch energy prospector Fugro and deep-sea mapping firm Ocean Infinity.
Both were involved in the search for the Malaysian airliner MH370, which disappeared in 2014.
Scientists leading the ambitious ‘Seabed 2030’ project say it could reveal the presence of hidden mountains, trenches and even wreckage of ships and planes
In 2005, a US nuclear submarine, the USS San Francisco (pictured), collided with an undetected underwater hill at full speed at a depth of about 500 feet (160 metres). The front of the submarine was so badly damaged it struggled to complete the ascent
High-tech multibeam echosounders transmit a fan of acoustic beams from a ship, which ping back depending on the depth and topography of the ocean floor. That creates data points, which can be converted into a map.
‘With advanced sonar technology it really is like seeing. I think we’ve come out of the era of being the blind man with the stick,’ said Robert Larter, a marine geophysicist at the British Antarctic Survey.
‘We can survey much more efficiently – and, not only that, but in much greater detail,’ he said, adding that the work was painstaking.
‘The ocean’s a big place!’ he said.
Some parts of the oceans – the east coast of the United States, areas around Japan, New Zealand and Ireland – are relatively well mapped, experts said. Others, including the West African coast or that off the Caribbean, remain largely blank.
Mappers look to chart world’s ocean floor by 2030
Using data collected from underwater drones, merchant ships, fishing boats and even explorers, a new scientific project aims to map the ocean floor by 2030 and solve one of the world’s enduring mysteries.
With73 million square miles of water – or about 93 percent of the world’s oceans with a depth of over 200 metres – yet to be charted, the initiative is ambitious.
Satinder Bindra, director of the Seabed 2030 project, said the work can be completed within the period and will shed light on everything from tsunami wave patterns to pollution, fishing movements, shipping navigation and unknown mineral deposits.
‘We know more about the surface of the Moon and Mars than our own backyard. This in the 21st century is something that we are working to correct,’ Bindra told Reuters.
‘For too long now we have treated our own oceans as a forgotten frontier.’
The project is a collaboration between Japan’s philanthropic Nippon Foundation and GEBCO, a non-profit association of experts that is already involved in charting the ocean floor. GEBCO operates under the International Hydrographic Organization and UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency.
The search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has contributed more than 65,000 square kilometers of data
‘We are not driven by profit, we are driven by science,’ Bindra said.
‘There’s unanimity within the scientific and the mapping community that a map is essential.’
Still, the ocean economy is expected directly to contribute $3 trillion to the world economy by 2030 from $1.5 trillion in 2010, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The initiative has received support from Dutch deep-sea energy prospector Fugro, which was involved in the search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared in 2014. Fugro has contributed 65,000 square km of data.
Ocean Infinity, which has taken up the search for MH370, is another company contributing to the 2030 initiative.
Bindra said they are also looking to tap research missions as well as explorers searching for sunken wrecks together with data pulled from ships, fishing boats and commercial companies.
The project, which has an estimated cost of $3 billion, will leave waters closer to shore to national research bodies. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is separately supporting the initiative.
One potential problem such exploratory research could face would be from rising geopolitical tensions in sensitive waters around the world including the South China Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.
‘By being open in our data sharing, we are also hoping that national hydrographic organisations will start sharing their data and closer to shore,’ Bindra said.
Bindra said the data obtained from the multiple sources would be pulled together by experts at four centres around the world and then collated at Britain’s National Oceanography Centre, adding that they planned to produce their first bathymetric map by the end of 2018 and update it annually.
Peter Thomson, the U.N. secretary general’s special envoy for the ocean, said he was ‘very aware … of the mineral aspects’ of exploring the seabed, adding that the main charting activity would be from the scientific community.
‘The United Nations has adopted a resolution to have a decade of ocean science for sustainable development running from 2021 to 2030. And during that decade I’m very confident we will have totally mapped the floor of the ocean.’
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