Only 19 percent of the ocean has been explored
June 09 2021
The ocean covers over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface and it plays a crucial role in aspects such as temperature regulation, weather changes and most importantly supporting life development. Actually 70 percent of the oxygen you breathe is produced by the ocean, through phytoplankton.
Ever since the Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project was launched in 2017, we are currently standing at 19% of the Earth’s ocean surface being surveyed to efficient and more reliable modern standards.
The importance of exploring the ocean.
In the past, humans have been sent to explore the deepest part of the ocean, which is the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean. The first record was set in 1960, where an exploration crew spent 20 minutes in deepest ocean floors. Later in 2012 film director James Cameron, an ocean enthusiast himself, set a new record by visiting the Mariana Trench in a vertical torpedo submarine. Although human exploration would provide better and more direct feedback towards achieving new discoveries, there are many difficulties that arise such as deep sea water pressure and high costs, making it a counter effective option.
Deep ocean studying could be a source of new discoveries that would help us address some of our global problems such as climate change. Exploration of the ocean induces discoveries, but in order to explore first we must perform accurate seafloor mapping.
Mapping the ocean provides an idea of what sits beneath the surface and is an extremely helpful tool for deep sea exploration. The entire ocean floor has already been mapped using satellites, however, this data only provides general non detailed maps of what can be found. Important features and objects still remain undiscovered. Imagine opening your eyes at the bottom of the sea without goggles. You would be able to guess forms and figures, but not have an accurate depiction of what’s in front of you, let alone a mile away.
Modern high-resolution technology such as multi-beam sonar systems provide a much greater detail.
Sonar technology (Sound Navigation and Ranging) is a more precise method of mapping the ocean because sound waves travel farther than radar or light waves in the water. Nautical charts (maps that show the shore and seafloor structure) are developed using mostly sonar tactics nowadays and help identify dangers and objects under the sea surface as well as mapping the seafloor.
Sonar can be performed by remotely operated vehicles which are attached to a vessel or also performed by autonomous underwater vehicles. These self driven vehicles gather samples and footage and have allowed a more detailed examination, reaching places still unexplored by human kind.
With sonar technology, around 19% of the ocean floor has been mapped to date. However, to achieve higher resolutions, sonar detection must be performed closer to the seafloor.
Recent multibeam map coverage can be explored at GeoMapApp: zoom all the way in to see the tracks of ships that have mapped areas at high resolution.
Better seafloor maps are required to improve the forecasting of climate change. Oceans play an important role in heat movement around the planet and if we want to fully understand how the sea level will rise across the world (thus directly affecting climate change), accurate ocean floor maps will be necessary.
- NOAA. How much of the ocean have we explored? National Ocean Service website, https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/exploration.html, updated on 02/26/21.
- NOAA. What is a nautical chart? National Ocean Service website, https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/nautical_chart.html, updated on 02/26/21.
- Livescience. Mysteries of the oceans remain vast and deep. Livescience website, https://www.livescience.com/14493-ocean-exploration-deep-sea-diving.html, 06/08/11.
- SOI. The ocean: haven’t we already mapped it? Schmidt Ocean Institute website, https://schmidtocean.org/cruise-log-post/the-ocean-havent-we-already-mapped-it, 03/12/13.
- BBC. One-fifth of the Earth’s ocean floor is now mapped. BBC website, https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-53119686, 06/21/20.