What Lies Below

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

Scientists are making huge progress in mapping the ocean floor.

One of today's strange facts is that we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about our planet's oceans. Indeed, the entire lunar surface has been completely mapped and uniformly classified by scientists from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in collaboration with NASA and the Lunar Planetary Institute.

However, there’s now progress on closing that gap with the Seabed 3030 Project reporting that scientists have mapped 19 percent of ocean floors to contemporary standards (that's 14.5 million square kilometres), or a huge leap over the six percent from Seabed’s launch in 2017. That may sound rather paltry, but don't forget that the oceans cover 71 per cent of the earth's surface; so, twice as much as earth. Something that Bill Bryson once remarked upon, saying that we've mis-named our planet. Water would be a much better name than earth.

A significant portion of the sea-bed mapping comes from over 5 million square miles of depth data collected in project partner GEBCO’s grid in 2019. That’s roughly twice the size of Australia, Seabed 2030 said. The initiative has been helped by 133 contributors, partners and supporters. Some of the data, including GEBCO’s latest, had been publicly available but hadn’t been turned over until recently.

Organization leaders are also counting on crowdsourced ship data and even robotic mapping vessels to fill in the gaps. The project is supported by non-profit organisation the Nippon Foundation, as well as the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans – the only intergovernmental organisation with a mandate to map the entire ocean floor.

There’s still a lot of work left to reach the 2030 target of mapping everything, and much of it is the deep sea.

The project coordinators said a complete map of the world’s oceans “will facilitate a heightened understanding of fundamental processes including ocean circulation, weather systems, sea level rise, tsunami wave propagation, tides, sediment transport, benthic habitat distributions and climate change.”

They said it would also help humanity conserve and sustainably use the oceans. And, of course, everyone is hoping for a great new discovery hidden under the oceans.