What’s under the sea? Setting in place efforts to map the world’s entire ocean floor by 2030
A meeting in Monaco of over 150 senior representatives, scientists, scholars and business associates from major ocean related organizations has endorsed the objective of Seafloor 2030 – that the comprehensive mapping of the entire ocean floor is possible by the year 2030.
Mapping the sea floor – bathymetry – is crucial to multiple stakeholders: marine scientists rely on bathymetric charts to plan oceanic expeditions and focus their research time and resources efficiently; the shipping industry require excellent bathymetric maps to ensure safe and effective navigation routes; disaster management authorities rely on bathymetric maps to support tsunami forecasting and modeling efforts. Knowing what’s under the sea – more precisely, how the sea floor is shaped – is a crucial piece of information that is currently missing for much of the global ocean. More than 85 per cent of the world ocean floor remains unmapped with modern mapping methods.
Held under the auspices of the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO), The Forum for Future Ocean Floor Mapping (15-17 June) called for the sharing of bathymetric information to create a global baseline bathymetric database. It also called for greater access to the tools and technology, particularly for developing and coastal nations, to make a comprehensive database possible, for the sharing of data to achieve this ultimate objective.
GEBCO is a joint project of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO and the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO), and remains the world’s only international organization mandated to map the ocean floor.
The Forum was formally opened by Prince Albert II of Monaco, great-great-grandson of Prince Albert I, who founded GEBCO in 1903. Keynote addresses were given by representatives of GEBCO’s two parent organizations: Robert Ward, President of the Secretariat of the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO) and by Thorkild Aarup, representing the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO.
Other notable speeches included that of Vice Admiral Shin Tani, Chairman of GEBCO’s Guiding Committee, who highlighted that the world “knows more about the topography of Mars than the Earth’s seafloor”. The Chairman of the Nippon Foundation, Yohei Sasakawa, which sponsored the Forum, further called for strong international support for mapping the ocean floor.
After two days of intensive panel discussions and breakout sessions, participants concluded that the task of mapping the ocean floor involved a new structure for global coordination of mapping activities and gathering of all available depth measurements into a coherent and global portrait of the global ocean floor. International cooperation is required to mobilize actors and bring into the equation advanced tools such as bathymetric post-processing and analysis software, database technology, computing infrastructure and gridding techniques, and the latest developments in seafloor mapping methods.
Scientific innovation initiatives are emerging to pursue the Seafloor 2030 objective. The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE is currently challenging teams to develop new deep-sea technologies for autonomous, fast and high-resolution ocean mapping. And a pilot project between GEBCO and Google will be initiated to investigate further the application of satellite imagery derived bathymetry on a global scale, utilizing GEBCO’s network.
Achieving Seafloor 2030 will require identifying existing data and mapping the remaining gaps. Greater institutional coordination between scientific research and industry must be complemented with capacity building to ensure the effective engagement of developing states, and the necessary political support through the G7 and UN agencies. Advances in ocean floor mapping will be crucial to the development of ongoing UN ocean frameworks, in particular the United Nations Atlas of the Oceans and the implementation of Goal 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – to conserve and sustainably use the world’s oceans, seas and marine resources.
These conclusions from the Forum for Future Ocean Floor Mapping strongly echo the views expressed by IOC Member States on the importance of GEBCO products for IOC programmes such as tsunami modeling and inundation maps, integrated coastal management, and coastal hazards forecasts.
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