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World’s first digital ocean floor map

Researchers from the University of Sydney’s School of Geosciences in Australia have created the world’s first digital map of the seafloor. Understanding the ocean — the Earth's largest storehouse of carbon — as it relates to the seabed is critical to know how climate change will affect the ocean environment.

“In order to understand environmental change in the oceans we need to better understand the seabed,” says lead researcher Dr. Adriana Dutkiewicz. “Our research opens the door to a better understanding of the workings and history of the marine carbon cycle. We urgently need to understand how the ocean responds to climate change.”

The last seabed map was hand drawn more than 40 years ago. Using an artificial intelligence method called support vector machine, experts at the National ICT Australia (NICTA) turned an assemblage of descriptions and sediment samples collected since the 1950s into a single contiguous digital map.

“The difference between the new and old map is a little like comparing a barren tundra landscape with an exotic tropical paradise full of diversity,” says Dutkiewicz. “The ocean floor used to be portrayed as a monotonous seascape whereas the new map echoes the colorful patchworks of dreamtime art.”

The map data can be downloaded for free, and you can see the dreamy interactive 3D globe here.

-- Lance Farrell

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