NOWADAYS we know a huge amount about our precious
planet and what it consists of. But what we don’t always consider is that a vast 70%
of the Earth’s surface is under the sea. And only 15% of this has been mapped in detail.
There’s an entire world underwater that we know very little about. The deep ocean
floor is the most challenging environment for scientists to study on the planet. And
while we might think of what’s down there as fixed, it’s actually in a constant state
of flux. But since the 1980s, a technique called swath
mapping, which uses ship-mounted transducers to bounce acoustic beams into the depths,
has shone a light on this watery world. The results reveal – with startling accuracy – the
topography of what lies beneath. Scientists at Oxford University
are combining all the data gathered so far to create the most comprehensive analysis
yet of the ocean floor. But with around 85% still left to be discovered, it will take
serious international cooperation and at least a decade to get the full picture. Until then, the majority of the Earth’s
surface remains mysterious. There’s a thrilling landscape underwater, from deep trenches through
long fractures to huge underwater mountains – known as ‘seamounts’.
We don’t know exactly how many seamounts exist, but they’re of crucial importance.
Not only does their formation reveal details about our planet’s history but they act
as biodiversity hotspots and oceanographic stirring rods, as well as being hazardous
for navigation. By mapping the entire ocean floor we can become more accurate at ocean
modelling, including natural disasters such as tsunamis, landslides and earthquakes.
From trenches that can hold the Himalayas, to volcanoes submerged under the waves, there
are magnificent secrets lurking under the water. It’s high time we uncovered them. For more fascinating science visit our website,
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