Roughly 25 percent (23.4 percent to be exact) of the Earth’s sea floor has been mapped, thanks to an international initiative known as Seabed 2030. Relying largely on voluntary contributions of bathymetric data (or ocean topography) by governments, companies and research institutions, the project is part of a larger UN-led initiative called The Ocean Decade. Seabed 2030 hopes to map 100 percent of the ocean floor by 2030, which researchers say will be possible thanks to advances in technology and corralling already available data. Over the past year alone, Seabed 2030 has added measurements for around 3.8 million square miles (roughly the size of Europe) primarily through newly opened archives, rather than active mapping efforts.
Scientists believe collecting more bathymetric data will help further our understanding of climate change and ocean preservation efforts. Ocean floor mapping also helps in the detection of tsunamis and other natural disasters. “A complete map of the ocean floor is the missing tool that will enable us to tackle some of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time, including climate change and marine pollution. It will enable us to safeguard the planet’s future,” said Mitsuyuki Unno, executive director of The Nippon Foundation in a press release.
As the BBC notes, much of the data used in Seabed 2030 already existed. The group largely relies on contributions from governments and companies, though some of these entities are still reluctant to completely open up their archives for fear of spilling national or trade secrets.
All the data that Seabed 2030 is collecting will be available to the public online on the GEBCO (General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans) global grid. Prior to Seabed 2030, very little directly measured ocean floor data was available for public use. Most bathymetric measurements are estimated using satellite altimeter readings, which give a very rough idea of the shape of the sea floor surface. Some scientists believe a global effort to locate the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 would have been better informed by newer, more precise methods to chart the ocean floor.