Seafloor Mapping – the challenge of a truly global ocean bathymetry

Anne-Cathrin Woelfl1, Helen Snaith2, Sam Amirebrahimi3, Colin Devey1, Boris Dorschel4, Vicki Ferrini5, Veerle A. Huvenne6, Martin Jakobsson7, Jennifer Jencks8, Gordon Johnston9, Geoffroy Lamarche10,11, Larry Mayer12, David Millar13, Terje H. Pedersen14, Kim Picard15, Anja Reitz1, Thierry Schmitt16, Martin Visbeck1, Pauline Weatherall2 and Rochelle Wigley12

1GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel, Germany
2British Oceanographic Data Centre (BODC), United Kingdom
3FrontierSI, Australia
4Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), Germany
5Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO), United States
6National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton, United Kingdom
7Department of Geological Sciences, Stockholm University, Sweden
8National Centers for Environmental Information, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, United States
9Geomatic Ventures Limited, United Kingdom
10National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), New Zealand
11School of Environment, Faculty of Science, University of Auckland, New Zealand
12Center for Coastal and Ocean xxMapping, University of New Hampshire, United States
13Fugro (United States), United States
14Kongsberg Maritime (Norway), Norway
15Geoscience Australia, Australia
16Naval Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service, France

Detailed knowledge of the shape of the seafloor is crucial to humankind. Bathymetry data is critical for safety of navigation and is used for many other applications. In an era of ongoing environmental degradation worldwide, bathymetry data (and the knowledge derived from it) play a pivotal role in using and managing the world’s oceans in a way that is in accordance with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14 - conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. However, the vast majority of our oceans is still virtually unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored. Only a small fraction of the seafloor has been systematically mapped by direct measurement. The remaining bathymetry is predicted from satellite altimeter data, providing only an approximate estimation of the shape of the seafloor. Several global and regional initiatives are underway to change this situation. This paper presents a selection of these initiatives as best practice examples for bathymetry data collection, compilation and open data sharing as well as the Nippon Foundation-GEBCO (The General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans) Seabed 2030 Project that complements and leverages these initiatives and promotes international collaboration and partnership. Several non-traditional data collection opportunities are looked at that are currently gaining momentum as well as new and innovative technologies that can increase the efficiency of collecting bathymetric data. Finally, recommendations are given towards a possible way forward into the future of seafloor mapping and towards achieving the goal of a truly global ocean bathymetry.

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