A Group of Scientists Could Have the Entire Ocean Floor Mapped by 2030
But is that a good thing?
When you live near the coast, you become pretty familiar with the sea: the way the tides ebb and flow; the exact sound the waves make as they break and barrel toward the shore; the way the light bounces off the ocean’s surface just so at sunset.
We know the ocean so well, and yet—scientifically speaking—we know so little.
According to the NOAA, an estimated 91 percent of the species who call the sea home are yet to be discovered, and—while the ocean makes up 70 percent of our planet—only 5 percent of the seafloor is understood in any significant detail. (We know more about the surfaces of Mars and Mercury.)
But, in 2017, a group of international oceanographers banded together to change that. United under the non-profit group General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO), the scientists aim to create a detailed map of the world’s oceans—all 140 million square miles of it—by 2030.
Here's Why It's Important to Map the Ocean Floor:
It’s certainly not an easy task, considering the limitations of human ocean exploration. But modern sonar technology, coupled with a crowdsourced system, could make it possible. To create the map, the foundation hopes to recruit cargo ships, fishing boats, and privately owned vessels to participate in transmitting data from the ocean floor. (Bonus: if you discover an underwater feature like a ridge, reef, or trench, you can petition to have it named after you, according to the BBC.)
But, while a map of the seafloor would be a breakthrough in modern science—not to mention extremely important for the safety of ocean vessels—not all scientists are 100 percent on board with it.
That’s because detailed maps of ocean floors would also be an aid for mining industries that might plunder the depths of the seas for profit, potentially endangering our already fragile marine habitats, according to the BBC. Most underwater mining currently takes place near the shore, but a GPS for deep-sea gold might transform the industry (though international maritime laws, which state that sealife must be protected, would still pose a challenge).
Still, if we can navigate the mining obstacles (and, most importantly, protect our oceans and the life within it), a complete ocean map would be a global game changer in terms of exploration, ocean conservation, and climate change, among many other things.
As NOAA scientist Craig McLean said at the Forum for Future Ocean Mapping in 2016, “The average person who’s not a mariner doesn’t realize how much their lives are daily impacted by that which is taking place out on the ocean, or that which is taking place under the ocean, or things that come up from the ocean…We’ve got to map the world’s oceans.”
Related: Meet Our 2017 Ocean Heroes: