Ocean floor mapping: What is it, its necessity and how will it help the scientists?

Ocean Floor Mapping: In a piece of good news, International researchers on June 21, 2020, achieved a new milestone in the history of marine exploration, finished mapping around one-fifth of the world's ocean floor.
Ocean Floor Mapping
Ocean Floor Mapping

In a piece of good news, International researchers on June 21, 2020, achieved a new milestone in the history of marine exploration, finished mapping around one-fifth of the world's ocean floor. On the occasion of World Hydrography Day (June 21), the Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project announced that they have added up 1.45 million sq. km. of new bathymetric (depth) data to its latest grid. This area is almost twice the size of Australia. 

Seabed 2030 Project, Director Jamie McMichael-Philips states it as a journey that will greatly benefit humanity. He further added that 81% of the ocean bed is yet to be explored which is twice the size of Mars (4th planet of our solar system). 

What is Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project?

It is a global initiative between Japan's non-profit Nippon Foundation and the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO), which is the only intergovernmental organisation to map the entire ocean floor and traces its origins to the GEBCO chart series. In 1903, Prince Albert I of Monaco, initiated this series.

In 2017, the Project was launched at UN Ocean Conference to galvanise the creation of a full map of the ocean floor and is known as Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project. The Project has 133 official partners, contributors and supporters – and continues to pursue new collaborations in data collection and technical innovation. 

When the project was launched, only 6% of the ocean floor was surveyed which is now 19%. Another 81% of the ocean floor is still left to survey and map.

Why there is a need for ocean floor mapping?

The bathymetric (depth) data is very crucial for navigation purposes, laying underwater cables and pipelines, building offshore wind turbines, exploration for oil and gas projects, etc. As every seamount serves as a biodiversity hotspot, it will help in fisheries management and their conservation. The seafloor mapping will give us a better understanding of the behaviour of ocean currents and the vertical mixing of water.

These pieces of information are vital in forecasting future climate changes as oceans play a major role in moving heat around the Earth. Also, the ocean bed mapping will help scientists to forecast the rise in sea-level in different parts of the world. An ocean floor map will also help in achieving the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goal-- to conserve and sustainably use the ocean resources. 

Is the sea bed mapping useful so far? 

As per experts, the previously mapped seafloor helped the scientists in Japan to study the forces behind the destructive 2011 Tohoku earthquake. 

A document of the Seabed 2030 Project stated that ocean floor mapping is important to search for the lost Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. The Malaysian flight disappeared on March 8, 2014, and there's no clue about it so far. 

The Chairman of the Nippo Foundation, Yohei Sasakawa announced three new initiatives under this project--  supporting the mapping of unexplored areas, collecting data through crowdsourcing, and advancing technology for data collection.

For collecting data through crowdsourcing, ships, fishing boats, yachts, small vessels, etc. can attach data-loggers and operate them while they transit the globe. This strategy played an important part in the BAS (British Antarctic Survey), operating in the remote parts of the globe. The idea was to collect data on passage and not just only at the site of interest.

Previously, satellites and planes having altimeter instruments provided large swathes of data about the ocean floor. The Seabed 2030 Project aims at collecting high-quality data having a minimum resolution of 100 m at all spots using different advanced technologies-- deepwater hull-mounted sonar systems, Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), etc. 

Why is China expanding its military footprints in the Indian Ocean? 

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