NZ scientists launch their part in bold project to map seafloor


New Zealand’s contribution to an ambitious international project aiming to generate a definitive map of the entire ocean floor in less than 12 years, is being launched in Wellington tomorrow.

Called Seabed 2030, the project is a collaboration between Japan’s Nippon Foundation and a group of international scientists and hydrographers known as the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO).

With just 15 per cent of the ocean floor currently mapped, the task is enormous and will require global collaboration across institutions, universities and industry to complete in time.

We're involved: new mapping of a quarter of the world's oceans

The work will be coordinated by four regional centres around the globe, with NIWA, GNS Science, and Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) jointly governing the South and West Pacific Ocean Regional Data Assembly and Coordination Centre.

This centre will be based at NIWA in Wellington and look after an area equivalent to a quarter of the world’s oceans.

 It covers the Pacific Ocean from South America to Australia, north of latitude 50°S to 10° north of the Equator and the western part of the Northern Pacific Ocean to Japan and includes the world’s two deepest trenches—the Mariana and Kermadec Trenches, both of which are more than 10km deep.

The centre is being led by NIWA marine geologist Dr Geoffroy Lamarche, who says the task requires close collaboration and involvement of all coastal states coordinated by the centre.

“Such information is critical to enable coastal states to properly manage and protect the benthic (at and near the seafloor) environment from the coast to the greatest depths of the ocean.”

Crowdsourcing group effort

The aim of Seabed 2030 is to combine all existing bathymetric data into a unified database, promote efforts to collect new data on the ocean floor and generate maps of all ocean floor features larger than 400m and make them available to the public.

Dr Lamarche says the centre will also explore the viability of crowdsourcing data from hundreds of thousands of fishing and cargo boats and cruise ships, private yachts and surveying industry ships, effectively creating a new fleet of mapping vessels.

Tomorrow’s launch of the South and West Pacific centre is taking place on World Hydrography Day, which celebrates the science of surveying and charting bodies of water.

LINZ National Hydrographer Adam Greenland says while the ocean covers more than two-thirds of the earth’s surface much of it remains uncharted.

“The work of hydrographers is critical for getting to know it better so people can navigate it safely and use it sustainably,” he said.

“Seabed data is in high demand from marine biologists, climate scientists and many others, who want it to understand issues like climate change and our resilience to natural events, and to figure out how to use ocean resources sustainably.”