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Seabed 2030: Map the Gaps

Courtesy of NOAA

With more than 80 percent of the world’s oceans unexplored and unmapped, an international collaboration is underway to facilitate the complete mapping of the ocean floor by 2030. The General Bathymetric Chart of Oceans (GEBCO) is partnering with the Nippon Foundation (NF) to compile all available and newly collected bathymetric data into a high-quality, 100-m-resolution digital model of the ocean floor and to promote international efforts to collect new data.

The initiative, Seabed 2030, was launched at the United Nations Ocean Conference in New York on June 6, 2017. It is recognized as the authoritative international initiative for mapping the world ocean. Seabed 2030 is the only long-term international project with a mandate to map the entire ocean floor.

Studying our Seas

The ocean floor has the same general characteristics as the above-water areas of the world, including mountains, plains, channels, canyons, hills, volcanoes, and more. Many of these intriguing ecosystems have rarely been seen or explored. In fact, less than 15 percent of ocean depths have been measured directly, and only 50 percent of the world’s coastal waters (less than 200 m deep) have ever been surveyed.

Scientists create bathymetric maps and products to illustrate the depth and shapes of underwater terrain, just as topographical maps represent three-dimensional features of above-sea terrain. Knowledge of the seafloor’s shape is crucial for understanding ocean circulation patterns relating to regional and global ocean–atmosphere processes that distribute heat between the tropics and the poles—a key component of Earth’s climate system.

Detailed measurements of depth are also critical for predicting tsunami inundation. In addition, ocean bathymetry is important for the study of tides, wave action, sediment transport, underwater geo-hazards, cable routing, fisheries management, resource exploration, and military and defense applications.

Partners in Ocean Mapping

Operating under the joint sponsorship of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), Seabed 2030 will take responsibility for bringing collected depth data together, finding and highlighting the unmapped gaps, and helping coordinate efforts by working with the established ocean mapping community. The ongoing IHO Crowdsourced Bathymetry initiative, which NOAA actively participates in, will play an important role in Seabed 2030 by continuing to work with the fishing industry to increase the amount of data from fishing vessels worldwide as well as recreational and merchant vessels.

The video, “Beneath the Surface: Exploring Our Global Seafloor,” captures the passion of the global community dedicated to this mission and provides important context for the goal of mapping the entirety of Earth’s ocean.

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Seabed 2030 video still image.

Mapping the ocean floor is vital to understanding and influencing ocean attributes. 

Jennifer Jencks, NCEI scientist, is featured in the video. NOAA and NCEI look forward to playing an active role in Seabed 2030. “NCEI has hosted the IHO Data Centre for Digital Bathymetry for almost 30 years,” said Jencks. “As the recognized archive for global bathymetric data, we look forward to be being a part of this international effort to map our world’s ocean by continuing to steward and provide access to the world’s bathymetric data.”