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So let’s examine some of the facts behind the “95 percent unexplored” meme and those comparisons with our celestial neighbours.
The entire ocean floor has now been mapped at up to ~5 km resolution, which means we can see most features larger than ~5 km across in those maps.
Exploring our world starts with mapping, but perhaps doesn’t really have an end.
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And if there are enough measurements to subtract the effects of waves and tides, satellites can actually measure bumps and dips in the sea surface that result from the underlying landscape of the ocean floor.
Where there is a large underwater mountain or ridge, for example, the tiny local increase in gravity resulting from its mass pulls seawater into a slight bump above it.
At the end of this month, we will be running an update of our free Massive Open Online Course (“MOOC”) about “Exploring Our Oceans”, intended for anyone interested in finding out more about our watery world, with no previous background in science required.
One topic we’ll look at in Week 1 of the course, “A hidden landscape”, is how we map the ocean floor, and how much has been mapped at different levels of detail.
Do we declare “mission accomplished” once we’ve seen a location for the first time?So the publication of a new ocean floor map this week, created from satellite data by David Sandwell of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego and colleagues, is very timely.We’re often told that we know more about the surface of Mars / the Moon / Venus (delete at whim) than the depths of the ocean, and that 95 percent of the ocean is “unexplored”.When it comes to having a large scale map, the ocean floor is perhaps not as unexplored as we might think, with 100 percent coverage at ~5 km resolution and around 10 to 15 percent coverage at ~100 m resolution.That 10 to 15 percent is similar in resolution to the current global maps of Mars and Venus.