The Earth’s oceans hold many secrets but the seabed is no longer one of them: scientists have created the world’s first digital map of the seafloor.
The last time the ground under the sea was properly mapped was in 1970 when a group of scientists painstakingly rendered the whole thing by hand.
But now scientists from the University of Sydney’s School of Geosciences have put big data to work creating the interactive map which charts the composition of the seafloor.
Using 50 years of research, the scientists analysed around 15,000 seafloor samples, then turned to data experts from the National ICT Australia (NICTA) who used algorithms to turn the sample data into an interactive digital map.
As well as looking pretty, the map will allow researchers to track the effects of environmental change on ocean life. That’s because the ocean floors are vast graveyards, where the bodies of creatures that live their lives nearer the surface of the sea drift when they die.
These creatures include tiny phytoplankton called diatoms, which produce about a quarter of the oxygen in the earth’s air while alive. When they die, they fall to the ocean floor. “The composition of these remains can help decipher how oceans have responded in the past to climate change,” lead researcher Dr Adriana Dutkiewicz explained.
Among other things, the new digital map shows where future research into the effects on these crucial phytoplankton should be concentrated.
You can check out the map and dig around the ocean floor for yourself by clicking here.