Martin Jakobsson on the icebreaker Oden on a previous research expedition. Photo: Björn Eriksson
Martin Jakobsson on the icebreaker Oden on a previous research expedition. Photo: Björn Eriksson


The GEBCO project (General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans) has been in progress for over one hundred years. GEBCO’s goal is to produce overview maps of the ocean floor worldwide. During the United Nation’s Ocean Conference in New York, the Nippon Foundation of Japan announced that it intends to partner with GEBCO and provide 18.5 million USD to a new project called Seabed 2030. The ambition of The Nippon Foundation – GEBCO - Seabed 2030 project is to gather and combine all of currently accessible depth data to create a high-resolution model of the World Ocean floors, and to coordinate new ocean mapping activities to fill the gaps in the existing data. The latter is a big task because less than 15 percent of the World Ocean floor has been properly mapped. The Seabed 2030 project will provide one of the critical components for the implementation of UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

Stockholm one of four centres

Stockholm University is one of four centres that will work on compiling the depth data and manage the project. It will be responsible for the northern Pacific Ocean and the Arctic Ocean.

“New information about the seafloor will lead to new research and new discoveries. Understanding the seafloor is essential to understanding ocean currents and the way that heat is transported across the planet, not to mention the movement of the continental shelves,” says Martin Jakobsson, Professor of Marine Geology and Geophysics and Head of the Department of Geological Sciences.

We know more about Venus than about the sea

About 71 percent of the earth is ocean. Despite the fact that the seafloor’s topography – bathymetry – is so import for research as well as many practical applications, we know more about the topography of Mars, Mercury and Venus. Bathymetry is important for tides, for sediment transport, for calculating the effects of rising sea levels caused by melting icecaps, for understanding the marine ecosystem and much more.

“One concrete example is that a digital model of the ocean bathymetry is needed to accurately calculate how a tsunami moves through the ocean,” say Martin Jakobsson.

New expeditions

Stockholm University’s work with Seabed 2030 includes researchers and technicians that will process and compile the data into a digital depth model for the northern Pacific and Arctic Oceans. The work will also involve help with the coordination of mapping activities across its focus area.

“We also need to raise funds for expeditions to survey completely unmapped areas,” says Martin Jakobsson. “One such place is north of Greenland, an enormous gap in knowledge of the seabed. Greenland’s ice sheet, with outlet glaciers that calve icebergs into the ocean, are especially sensitive to inflow of warmer water. Depth information is needed to know how sensitive the different fjord settings with outlet glaciers are. Only with this information at hand we can predict what would happen to Greenland’s ice sheet if the ocean continues to warm and currents redirect warmer water towards the outlet glaciers.”


General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO) was founded in 1903 by Monaco’s Prince Albert I. From the beginning, the project was a collaboration among scientists, the military, and traditional sea surveyors, that grew out of business’ need for maps. More than 100 years later, GEBCO’s work continues with the compilation of all available depth data from research expeditions, maritime industry, and national agencies. GEBCO operates under the joint auspices of UNESCOs Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO).

GEBCO Seabed 2030 will be coordinated globally by the British Oceanographic Data Centre and four regional centres. These include Stockholm University, Alfred Wegener Institute (Germany), National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research/Geological Nuclear Sciences (New Zealand) and Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University (USA).