New Ocean Map Discovers Plenty

Exploring the ocean floor is usually done by marine vessels using depth sounding equipment slowly combing the oceans which is expensive, time consuming and often contributes to ocean pollution but thanks to new research published in the journal Science, scientists have managed to map nearly 80% of earth’s ocean floor.

“The disappearance in the Indian Ocean of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 earlier this year, heightened global awareness of the poor knowledge of our ocean depths, we know much more about the topography of Mars than we know about Earth’s sea floor.” Says Professor Dietmar Muller of the University of Sydney.

The new advances have been made by combining 3 decades of old satellite data, along with new measurements from ESA’s (European Space Agency’s) CryoSat-2 and the US / French Jason-1 spacecraft.

Gravity Map

The research is boasting the highest resolution global marine gravity map (being twice as accurate as its predecessor), the discovery of an Ancient sea floor rift, an extinct ocean hot spot and all in unprecedented detail.

“It would take about 200 years if you were to map the entire sea floor by research vessel, and it would cost billions of dollars,” says Muller. “A more detailed understanding of the topography of the sea floor will also help scientists better understand ocean water mixing and circulation patterns, which affect Earth’s climate.”

The newly developed maps provide a glimpse of thousands of previously uncharted sea-mounts on the ocean floor, as well as ancient rifts, scars, ridges and fracture zones shaped by the movement of previously unknown tectonic plates in the Pacific Ocean.

The new map has also revealed an extinct mid-ocean ridge in the Gulf of Mexico and a huge rift scar in the South Atlantic Ocean formed by an ancient hot spot which cracked the planet’s crust.

“There had been speculation for a long time that a spreading ridge existed in the Gulf of Mexico, but nobody knew where it was because it was buried under deep sediment. We can see it for the first time with our new gravity map. This gives us some important clues as to how the Gulf of Mexico actually opened up tectonically during the Jurassic period.” says Muller.

The authors also discovered a large crack hidden away on the abyssal plain on the eastern flank of the South Atlantic Ocean, where a hotspot forced the mid-ocean ridge to propagate.

This is a major step forward in our understanding of Earth’s tectonic history and ocean bed, let alone allow governments and organisations to exploit new reservoirs of natural gas deposits and just consider the number of new species just waiting to be discovered.

Stay curious – C.Costigan

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