26 Jun 2020 - The ocean plays a critical role in moving heat around the planet. Seafloor maps are vital for fisheries management and climate change forecasting.
26 Jun 2020 - We've just become a little less ignorant about Planet Earth.
The initiative that seeks to galvanise the creation of a full map of the ocean floor says one-fifth of this task has now been completed.
When the Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project was launched in 2017, only 6% of the global ocean bottom had been surveyed to what might be called modern standards.
That number now stands at 19%, up from 15% in just the last year.
Some 14.5 million sq km of new bathymetric (depth) data was included in the GEBCO grid in 2019 - an area equivalent to almost twice that of Australia.
It does, however, still leave a great swathe of the planet in need of mapping to an acceptable degree.
"Today we stand at the 19% level. That means we've got another 81% of the oceans still to survey, still to map. That's an area about twice the size of Mars that we have to capture in the next decade," project director Jamie McMichael-Phillips told BBC News.
Better seafloor maps are needed for a host of reasons.
They are essential for navigation, of course, and for laying underwater cables and pipelines.
They are also important for fisheries management and conservation, because it is around the underwater mountains that wildlife tends to congregate. Each seamount is a biodiversity hotspot.
In addition, the rugged seafloor influences the behaviour of ocean currents and the vertical mixing of water.
This is information required to improve the models that forecast future climate change - because it is the oceans that play a critical role in moving heat around the planet. And if you want to understand precisely how sea-levels will rise in different parts of the world, good ocean-floor maps are a must.
Much of the data that's been imported into the GEBCO grid recently has been in existence for some time but was "sitting on a shelf" out of the public domain. The companies, institutions and governments that were holding this information have now handed it over - and there is probably a lot more of this hidden resource still to be released.
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