The precise number is up for debate depending on which corner of the internet you’re searching but there is still a consensus about how much of the ocean we still haven’t seen: A lot. According to NOAA, less than 10 percent of our global ocean has been mapped using sonar technology while surrounding the United States alone, only 35 percent has been mapped. Considering more than 70 percent of Earth’s surface is covered with water that leaves a massive chunk of the planet unexplored, unobserved, and completely unknown.
A $3 billion project backed by the United Nations and conveniently called Seabead 2030 may change that in a drastic way. A collaborative effort between Nippon Foundation and GEBCO, a non-profit association of experts already at work charting the ocean floor, the project was launched in 2017 aimed at having the entire planet’s ocean floor mapped by the year 2030. A project coordinator says having the world’s definitive map of the seafloor would give us more knowledge of the ocean’s biodiversity, a deeper understanding of climate, and even advanced warning of impending disasters as well as an ability to better protect or exploit deep-sea resources. And their plan to do all this includes pooling data from countries around the world and the use of high-tech sonar technology. They’ve also divided the globe into regions, making four regional centers responsible for data assembly in different areas of the world. The centers are located at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), Germany, covering the Southern Ocean; The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), New Zealand, covering the South and West Pacific Ocean; The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, USA, covering the Atlantic and Indian Oceans; and Stockholm University, Sweden, in partnership with the University of New Hampshire, USA, for the Arctic and North Pacific Oceans.
“With advanced sonar technology, it really is like seeing. I think we’ve come out of the era of being the blind man with the stick,” said Robert Larter, a marine geophysicist at the British Antarctic Survey. “We can survey much more efficiently – and, not only that but in much greater detail.”