» Project to map ocean floor by 2030 now operational
07.03.2018 - Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission

Project to map ocean floor by 2030 now operational

Set to map the entirety of the global ocean floor by 2030, the Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project has started operations, based on a seed money pledge of US$2 million-per-year from the Japan-based Nippon Foundation.

Officially launched during the United Nations Ocean Conference (5-9 June 2017) in New York, the project draws on the experience of international organizations and mapping experts under the coordination of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO).

Having a comprehensive map of the ocean floor could assist global efforts to combat pollution, aid marine conservation, forecast tsunami wave propagation, and help inform the study of tides and wave action. It could also help in search and rescue operations, as in the disappearance of the MH370 Malaysian Airlines flight in March 2014.

Despite its obvious useful applications, detailed bathymetric data – the topography of the ocean floor – is still missing for much of the global ocean. More than 85% of the world ocean floor remains unmapped with modern mapping methods, and by any technological standards we know more about Mars than we do about the depths of the ocean.

The Seabed 2030 Project will make a significant contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14: ‘to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development’ as well as to the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, proclaimed last December by the General Assembly.

“Between 2021 and 2030, the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development is set to provide a collective framework to bolster investments in ocean science and technology. Mapping the world’s ocean floor is expected to be a major achievement of this global partnership,” highlighted Vladimir Ryabinin, IOC Executive Secretary.

At a special event on 20 February in Tokyo, the Chairman of the Nippon Foundation, Mr Yohei Sasakawa, announced that the Seabed 2030 project is fully operational. He called for the “support of a large number of stakeholders, including world-leading technical experts. It is crucially important that the maritime community comes together to achieve this important goal,” particularly via financial commitments to expand the seed money pledged by the Nippon Foundation.

A panel of leading ocean-mapping experts under the IOC-IHO General Bathymetric Chair of the Oceans (GEBCO) participated in the Tokyo announcement event, including GEBCO Guiding Committee Chairman, Shin Tani, and Vice Chairman, Professor Martin Jakobsson. They emphasized that understanding the bathymetry of the global ocean is imperative, not only for improving maritime navigation, but also for enhancing our ability to predict climate change and monitor marine biodiversity and resources.

The Tokyo event introduced the Seabed 2030’s first Director, Mr. Satinder Bindra. Mr. Bindra, a former international journalist, will bring a wealth of experience to the project from previous positions at the Asian Development Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Environment, where he promoted key environmental initiatives and sustainable development. He will lead and coordinate the efforts of the international project team.

Mr. Bindra noted that “since its launch, the project has made rapid progress, drawing on the experience of some 28 international organizations and networks spread across more than 50 countries.” He further presented the project’s roadmap prepared by a team of renowned ocean mapping experts, and a structure based on four Regional Centers, each with responsibility for a region of the world’s ocean, and a Global Center tasked with producing the global map.

Regional Centers will be hosted by academic and research institutions in Germany, New Zealand, the United States, and Sweden, focusing on specific ocean basins. The Global Center, which is responsible for centralized data management and products, is based at the UK National Oceanography Center, Southampton.

In his concluding remarks at the Tokyo event, Mr Bindra stressed: “This is a challenging opportunity to build a global common good and do something meaningful for our future generations… As we strengthen our cooperation, we will deepen our understanding of the oceans and enhance our ability to map the remaining 85% of the ocean floor much faster than ever before.’’


The General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO) partners with the Nippon Foundation in the Seabed 2030 Project. GEBCO is a joint project of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO – the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization. It is the only organization with a mandate to map the entire ocean floor. It has its origins in the GEBCO chart series initiated in 1903 by Prince Albert I of Monaco and aims to provide the most authoritative, publicly-available bathymetric datasets for the world’s oceans.

The Nippon Foundation, a private, non-profit foundation, was established in 1962 for the purpose of carrying out philanthropic activities, using revenue from motorboat racing. The Foundation’s overall objectives include social innovation, assistance for humanitarian activities and global ocean management. Its philanthropic ideals embrace social development and self-sufficiency, and it pursues these principles by working to improve public health and education, alleviate poverty, eliminate hunger and help the disabled.


For more information, please contact:

Tetsushi Komatsu (t.komatsu(at)unesco.org)

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