One of the most detailed maps of the ocean floor till date has been produced by researchers. The map was used with data collected from satellites and remote sensing equipments. The map created was twice as accurate as the earlier maps. The maps revealed thousands of previously uncharted seafloor features. These maps can be explored by anyone.
The ocean floor topology is gauged from data which are obtained from multi beam sonar systems. It is a tedious process and ships have to crisscross the oceans to obtain the soundings of the sea floor deep underneath them. How difficult it is to map the oceans can be understood by the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 whose debris has still not been discovered even after a massive search operation. At least 90% of the deep sea bottom is uncharted. We have better maps of the Lunar Surface and the Red Planet Mars but scant knowledge about the depths of our oceans.
Researchers led by geophysicist David Sandwell, of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California are using data collected from satellite-based radar altimeters to fill in the blanks in the maps of the sea floor. The satellites do not scan the depts. Of the sea floor but scan the water surface. After correcting for waves and tides creates a picture of the sea surface topography which reflects the features and contours of the sea floor below.
Sandwell said, “A seamount, for example, exerts a gravitational pull, and warps the sea surface outward. So we can map the bottom of the ocean indirectly, using sea-surface topography.”
So what is unique about this map? The map has revealed thousands of previously unknown seamounts between 1000 and 2000 meters tall dotting the ocean floor. The maps also unearthed an 800 kilometer long ridge which is now extinct and no longer expanding in the South Atlantic Ocean which was created after Africa and North America drifted apart. The maps also identifies the extinct seafloor spreading ridge which was a created when two tectonic plates began separating some 180 million years ago creating the Gulf of Mexico.
Sandwell said, “That was a surprise to me—you’d think everyone would know everything about the Gulf because it’s so well-studied. Of course, people knew it opened from seafloor spreading, but they didn’t know exactly where the ridge and transform faults were.”