Friday’s Food for Thought: Mapping the Ocean Floor

Challenges and efforts in mapping the ocean floor


According to the Schmidt Ocean Institute, only five percent of the ocean’s floors have been mapped—leaving 65 percent of the planet’s floor a mystery. Additionally, Mars and other planets in our solar system have been mapped in greater detail than Earth’s oceans.

This was the topic of discussion at the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans’ “Forum for Future Ocean Floor Mapping,” held June 15-17 in Monaco. According to an Inertia article about the conference, cost is the biggest factor in mapping the entire ocean floor, at an estimated $3 billion. Because the floor can’t be mapped using radar, sonar would have to be implemented to capture high-resolution images of the bottom of the ocean, reports Motherboard. Additionally, it would cost tens of thousands of dollars per day to run survey vessels.

According to a BBC article, a $7 million challenge launched last year by Royal Dutch Shell and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will help further deep-sea exploration and mapping. The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE is a global competition in which teams develop technologies to detect geological features, underwater resources, new ocean species, and safer methods of exploring the sea. Registration ends Sept. 30 and winners will be chosen in December 2018.

According to a Popular Science article, researchers from the University of Delaware are attempting to create 3D printed maps of a section of the sea floor at the Redbird Reef in Delaware. The project, sponsored by the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research, studies the ripples and ridges on the continental shelf. The 3D maps are created with bathymetric sonar images and other data to study the ripples and discover clues on the effects of past storms to help predict the effects of future storms.

Despite challenges, more thoroughly mapping the ocean floor would lead to improved wave modeling and better forecasting of storm surges, as well as improved understanding of fisheries, oil and mineral exploration, tsunamis, and more.

Photo Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

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