Sea views: mapping the ocean floor

Sea views: mapping the ocean floor
30 Aug
2017
A project to map the ocean floor is raising concerns about prospective deep-sea mining operations

If all the water in the seas suddenly disappeared, we would be shocked by the strange, new world of seamounts, gullies, sheer cliffs and plains that would be revealed – some in places where they would not be expected. That’s because less than 15 per cent of the seafloor is mapped in reliable detail, a fact that non-profit mapping outfit, the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO), wants to change.

In partnership with Japanese humanitarian organisation The Nippon Foundation, GEBCO hopes to have mapped the entirety of the ocean floor – in unprecedented high-resolution detail – by 2030. This is to be achieved through the collation of existing and new sea mapping data from a wide variety of external sea-going sources, identifying data gaps and initiating mapping projects to fill in areas of uncertainty. Four regional data centres in Germany, New Zealand, the United States and Sweden will cover different regions of the planet’s oceans, with a fifth ‘global coordination centre’ overseeing the entire project from the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton.

‘It is a timely, relevant and essential first step towards better understanding our ocean and our planet,’ says Kristina Gjerde, a senior high seas policy advisor for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. ‘The more we learn about the configuration of the sea floor, the more we can understand Earth’s geology, climate and ocean dynamics, as well as the variety of habitats for marine life.’ A better map of the seabed would improve our understanding of climate and weather systems and even help predict disasters – the shape of the seafloor helps directs ocean circulation as well as the course of tsunamis.

atlanticThe ocean seabed is yet to be mapped in detail – but this might soon change (Image: GEBCO)

However, some scientists have raised concerns that increased knowledge of the seabed could also enable deep-sea mining prospectors to hone in on new bounties. Mining the seabed is a controversial practice: while it may relieve terrestrial ecosystems of mining pressure, it has untold impact on seabed ecosystems. ‘We need to make sure that globally agreed rules are in place to make sure that the data is not abused, that effective conservation measures are taken,’ says Gjerde, ‘and that any uses made with the seafloor data are effectively controlled.’

The United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea – often described as a ‘constitution for the oceans’ – provides fair rules about who can profit from seabed resources. It says little, however, when it comes to biodiversity, which is one of many reasons why major steps are being taken by the UN General Assembly to write a new treaty as soon as possible, one that safeguards mammals and ecosystems in the high seas.

This was published in the September 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Geophoto

Every year, the LPOTY awards celebrate the best in Britain’s…

Climate

At the 23rd Convention of the Parties (COP) climate change…

Oceans

Knowing where past coral reefs existed is a crucial component…

Oceans

Numerous low-lying Pacific islands have disappeared under rising seas

Oceans

In this exclusive film for Geographical, see how an unusually…

Climate

Marco Magrini considers why the recent devastation caused by hurricanes…

Geophoto

Country borders are some of the most controlled environments on…

Wildlife

Nature reserves and protected areas in Germany have lost 76…

Oceans

An investigation into shark fins and ray gills sold in…

Climate

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Wildlife

The rapid spread of Asian hornets is likely to make…

Energy

Europe provides more than €112billion (£97billion) in subsidies to fossil…

Oceans

A study of various fish populations has found dramatic reductions…

Geophoto

The seasonal changes of September promise much photographic potential for…

Oceans

Shipping traffic can increase lightning strikes, according to a pioneering…

Polar

New documentary travels to remote Antarctica to unpack the complex…

Oceans

The deaths of these majestic creatures had remained an unsolved…

Wildlife

Over a two-year period, a new species of plant or…

Wildlife

As part of New Zealand’s plan to cull millions of…

Oceans

A project to map the ocean floor is raising concerns…