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Fledermaus image shown in National Geographic Explorer's Journal

High-Tech Mapping Sheds New Light on the Atlantic Seafloor

June 5, 2015

Andrew Howley 
National Geographic Society in Explorers Journal 

Excerpt below, full article can be found here: http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/05/high-tech-mapping-sheds-new-light-on-the-atlantic-seafloor/

The ancient Irish may have done it. The Vikings certainly did. And when Columbus made the trip, it ushered in one of the most dramatic periods of change in human history. In 1857, the first transatlantic communication cable had a similar effect.

Now, outfitted with the latest in survey and mapping technology, a team of researchers is making that daunting voyage: crossing the Atlantic by ship. They’re on a reconnaissance mission for the 2016 Seabed Survey Pilot Project, which will create the most detailed map yet of the bottom of the great, cold, and decidedly not “pacific” Atlantic Ocean.

What We Don’t Know

The Transatlantic Ocean Research Alliance between Canada, the European Union, and the United States was set up in 2013 in part to better understand the nature of this section of the world’s ocean and the living systems that make it their home. While important for purely scientific reasons, this information will also help guide the most sustainable use and development of the vast resources in this area.

 

The scientific team poses onboard as lines cast off in St. Johns. Left to right: Fabio Sacchetti-MI Ireland, Marcos Rosa-IPMA Portugal, Tommy Furey-MI Ireland, Derek Sowers-NOAA USA, Kirk Regular, MI Newfoundland, Slava Sobolev-MI Ireland. (Photo Courtesy Tommy Furey)

There have been maps of the ocean floor before, notably those created by Marie Tharp, and people may have a general image of the bottom of the Atlantic: about midway between the eastern and western continents, there is the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a massive mountain range caused by the great tectonic plates ripping apart.

This amount of information is about as detailed as saying that North America consists of a vast flat area disrupted in the west by the Rocky Mountains. It’s certainly correct, but it misses incredible amounts of detail about the land. The ocean floor is no less varied and dynamic.

The Tools to Learn More

Modern technology that uses both acoustic and gravitational feedback can reveal not only mountain ranges, but coral patches, sea grass beds, and vents like those discovered by NG Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Robert Ballard that revealed the existence of chemo-synthetic life that exists without any access to sunlight. While much of this technology has been in use for decades, refinements over the past two years have dramatically increased their accuracy and detail.

The Gollum Channel Complex Porcupine Seabight is revealed in new detail via multibeam data. (Image Courtesy Tommy Furey)

Continue article here: http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/05/high-tech-mapping-sheds-new-light-on-the-atlantic-seafloor/

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