Seabed 2030: An Ambitious Project To Map the 80% of the Ocean That Is Unexplored

With so much focus on space exploration, it is easy to forget that the ocean covers 70 percent of the Earth and 80 percent of that is unknown and uncharted — has not been mapped.  But a project called “Seabed 2030” launched three years ago, is aiming to change all that.  Seabed 2030 is an unprecedented global collaboration between governments and the private sector, bringing existing depth data together, finding and highlighting the unmapped gaps of the ocean floor, and helping coordinate efforts by working with the established ocean mapping community to survey those gaps.

Why This Matters:  It is hard to believe how much we don’t know about our home — it’s as if we live in a house but have never explored the basement.  Ocean floor maps and depth measurements are essential for predicting tsunami inundation, for the study of tides, wave action, sediment transport, underwater geo-hazards, cable routing, fisheries management, resource exploration, and the military and our global security, not to mention understanding the Earth’s climate system.  As of 2018, only 43% of US ocean and coastal areas extending from shore out to 200 miles have had basic surveys. The U.S. government has pledged to map all of the U.S. unmapped areas by 2030 and contribute them to the global Project.  

Mapping the Ocean Floor Is Like a Giant Puzzle

Many nations have mapped pieces of their coastal ocean, but these pieces have never been assembled in one place, but that is exactly what this project will do.  The U.S. has more detailed maps of the planet Mars than we have of most of the ocean.  Scientists estimate that it would cost only $3B USD to map the ocean completely — the cost of one Mars expedition.

2021-30 Is the UN Decade of Ocean Science

When the UN set out its Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, it consciously focused one of the goals on “life below water” with the aim of conserving and sustainably using the oceans and marine resources.  But at that time they recognized this would be difficult without more knowledge of the ocean – that there are huge gaps in what we know.  In 2017, the UN proclaimed that 2021-2030 would be the “Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development” to promote sustainable ocean management and highlight the need for much more ocean observation/data and ocean research.  This project, sponsored by the Nippon Foundation, grew from that proclamation.

To Go Deeper:  This week the UN is sponsoring a series of virtual “Ocean Dialogues” to take the place of its planned UN Ocean Conference, which had been scheduled for this week.  To watch the dialogues and participate, click here or scan the barcode below.  Today’s sessions are on the high seas and on fisheries.

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