A new composite satellite map of the Earth’s oceans is helping scientists understand the world’s last unexplored frontier. The bottom of the world’s oceans contain a multitude of secrets. Despite mankind’s ability to set foot on the moon, construct an orbital, manned space station and send remote emissaries to distant worlds, we just don’t know that much about our nearby darkened world beneath the water.
However, the mapping project headed by a team from the University of California at San Diego has succeeded in mapping the ocean floor to an unprecedented detail. According to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the university, the new ocean floor map is more than twice as accurate as its predecessor which was constructed over twenty years ago. Particularly improved are the topographical features of the most remote reaches of the seafloor.
The lead scientist on the research team, Dr. David Sandwell, a geophysics professor at the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP) at Scripps, spoke about the new map according to the BBC.
“The kinds of things you can see very clearly now are abyssal hills, which are the most common land form on the planet. In the previous radar dataset we could see everything taller than 2 kilometers, and there were 5,000 seamounts. With our new dataset – and we haven’t fully done the work yet – I’m guessing we can see things that are 1.5 kilometers tall. That might not sound like a huge improvement but the number of seamounts goes up exponentially with decreasing size. So, we may be able to detect another 25,000 on top of the 5,000 already known.”
To create the map, the team at UC San Diego combined data from the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite, which primarily captures polar ice data but also operates continuously over the oceans, and Jason-1, NASA’s satellite that was redirected to map the gravity field during the last year of its 12-year mission.
The new map improves understanding of how the continents are connected. It also gives new, unmatched views down to the sea floor which can sometimes be hidden beneath over a mile of sediment. The new ocean map will also serve as the base template for Google’s upcoming ocean maps.
Don rice, the program director at the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Division of Ocean Sciences, spoke about the importance of the map.
“The team has developed and proved a powerful new tool for high-resolution exploration of regional seafloor structure and geophysical processes. This capability will allow us to revisit unsolved questions and to pinpoint where to focus future exploratory work.”
You can view ultra-high resolution versions of the new ocean floor map at the University of San Diego’s Marine Gravity homepage.
images via UCSD and ASOC