It’s kind of an odd reality that we know more about the surface of the moon and Mars than we do the floors of our oceans. According to the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), less than 10% of the ocean’s floor deeper than 200 meters has been mapped in detail. Last year, NASA created a map using satellites and gravity (somehow), which serves us today as the most detailed account we have of what our ocean floors look like. Still, it only shows us a fraction of what’s under the surface.
So what’s the hold up? And why is this something worth changing? The IHO actually held a forum in Monaco last week dedicated to exploring and discussing new technologies for collecting and analyzing ocean depth data.The Forum for Future Ocean Floor Mapping brought together everybody from the General Bathymetric Chart of the Ocean (GEBCO), the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC) and the IHO, to name a few. Specifically, mapping the ocean floor has been GEBCO’s main objective since 1903 and one of the interesting summaries coming out of the conference is a ballpark price tag: Between $2 Billion and $3 Billion, using 40 ships over 5 years according to Walter Smith of the NOAA.
“It’s a matter of commitment,” director of the Center for Marine Science and Coastal Engineering at the University of New Hampshire, Larry Mayer says. “We could map the entire deep oceans for $3 billion – no more than a single Mars mission,” bringing the idea full circle that we may know more about the surfaces of other planets than we do our own and later pointing out the price tag matches what NASA will spend on its next probe to Europa (a moon of Jupiter).
The proposed benefits of having a more comprehensive map of the ocean floor ranged from improved wave modeling (nice), forecasting storm surges, understanding our fisheries, oil and mineral exploration, and even helping understand (or better predict) tsunami. Researchers also pointed to current events, like the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, a disappearance that took place in 2014, as something that would help rescuers by accurately forecasting the motion of surface currents.