In 2017, an international team of experts from around the world, united under the non-profit General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (Gebco), launched the first effort to create a comprehensive map of the world’s oceans.While the earliest oceanographers trawled waters one painstaking knot at a time, recent advances in sonar technology mean that a single ship can now provide thousands of square kilometers’ worth of high-resolution maps during an expedition.But the underwater discoveries that await aren’t only of interest to mapmakers or marine researchers. Far below the ocean’s surface lies buried treasure: precious metals, rare earth elements, oil and diamonds – riches that have, until now, remained inaccessible to even the most intrepid of prospectors.Some ecologists fear that a map of our sea floor will allow extractive industries the chance to profit from these resources, potentially endangering marine habitats and coastal communities in the process. A global bathymetric map – that is, a map of the ocean’s floor – would certainly offer a better understanding of our blue planet, but it also might plunge us into a realm once reserved for science fiction: robot submarines, underwater volcanoes, sea jewels, coral with pharmaceutical properties, Wild West maritime law, toxic sediment plumes, and an ocean-based enterprise curiously devoid of humans or ships. Once the map is made, will it be used as a tool for responsible management and conservation, or wielded like pirate’s bounty, a guidebook to extraction and exploitation?Only 15% of the Earth’s ocean is mapped. Zoom in on the middle of the Pacific in Google Earth, for example, and you’ll find a representation of the ocean floor based on satellite and gravity-derived bathymetry: low resolution, indirect, often inaccurate....More than 100 years later, Gebco and the Nippon Foundation formally announced Seabed 2030, a project that aims to map the entire sea floor by the year 2030 using data gathered from vessels around the world – including soundings from those early expeditions.Modern ships like the kind used in Seabed 2030 are now outfitted with multibeam bathymetry, sonar systems that emit sound waves in a fan shape beneath a ship’s hull. Each sonar ping measures the time it takes for a signal to reach the seafloor and return to the surface, a calculation of the water’s depth that can be marked as a coordinate on a grid.
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Mapping the seafloor and monitoring the oceans
Posted 06 April 2018 - 08:01 PM
Posted 06 April 2018 - 08:04 PM
Today’s crews employ devices that can detect the magnetic field of a washing machine buried in sea mud. Their sonar can sweep the depths like a flashlight. Year after year, the number of shipwrecks still lost dwindles.“The short list keeps getting shorter these days as technology steps in,” said Delgado, the explorer. “Things can be found. It’s just a question of time and money.”
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