Frequently asked questions

Seabed 2030 is a collaborative project between the Nippon Foundation and GEBCO. It aims to bring together all available bathymetric data to produce the definitive map of the world ocean floor by 2030 and make it available to all.

Find out more about the project and how it operates from the following frequently asked questions.

Why and when was the Project put together?

The Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 project was established to map the entire ocean floor by 2030.

The project is committed to the vision of Mr Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman of The Nippon Foundation, who officially launched Seabed 2030 at the United Nations (UN) Ocean Conference in 2017.

Seabed 2030 supports the UN's Sustainable Development Goal 14: 'to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.'

Why are detailed maps of the seabed important?

The shape of the seabed is critical to understanding ocean circulation patterns - affecting climate and weather patterns, tides, wave action, sediment transport, tsunami wave propagation, underwater geo-hazards and resource exploration (for instance oil, gas and minerals).

More recently, our oceans have become vitally important for wave energy conversion, which uses the rising motion of waves to generate electrical energy.

Seabed mapping is vital for the security, safety and economic health of nation states. The 'Blue Economy', according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), is valued at $1.5 trillion a year and creates the equivalent of 31 million full-time jobs.

More importantly, given that three billion people rely on fish as a source of protein, a deeper understanding of the sea floor can only strengthen our understanding of marine ecosystems and marine life for the benefit of our current and future food supply.

We currently have over 1.1 million kilometers (approximately 424,712 square miles) of submarine cables and Google has just announced an investment of billions of dollars in three additional cables due to come online in 2019. Routing of these cables is highly dependent on detailed knowledge of bathymetry.

How will Seabed 2030 gather so much data needed to put together a complete map of the ocean floor?

Seabed 2030 will work to:

  • incorporate all currently available data into its global grid
  • identify existing data that are not currently in publicly available databases and seek to make these data available
  • identify areas for which no data exists and encourage data in collection in these areas so we can 'map the gaps'

All gathered data will be used to create new bathymetric data products. The core product is a digital grid of the World Ocean bathymetry. An updated grid will be released every year. The first grid will be released at the end of 2018.

How much of our ocean is mapped?

The consensus within the scientific community is that less than 20% of the world’s ocean floor has been mapped. We know the topography of the Moon and Mars in greater detail than that of our own planet.

Our lack of data causes problems, for instance when a recovery team searching for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 had to first spend months mapping a search area in the Indian Ocean, which was insufficiently mapped. For significant portions of the ocean, the only data available was recorded more than 100 years ago – by dropping a weight tied to a line over the edge of a boat and measuring the length to the bottom.

At what resolution are you going to map the oceans?

Seabed 2030 will map the ocean floor at the best possible resolution within practical limits. However, gathering high resolution bathymetric data gets more difficult as the ocean gets deeper. Due to this, we have set an overall minimum requirement for different ocean depths, based on what we can achieve with state-of-the-art multibeam technology.

This table shows the minimum resolutions we expect to achieve at each depth range by Seabed 2030.

Depth range Grid cell size % of world ocean floor
0–1500 m 100 × 100 m 13.7
1500–3000 m 200 × 200 m 11
3000–5750 m 400 × 400 m 72.6
5750–11,000 m 800 × 800 m 2.7

Which part of the ocean will you map first and how much will it cost?

Initial efforts will focus on mapping the 93% of the ocean deeper than 200 meters, leaving national hydrographic agencies to cover waters closer to shore.

Scientists estimate it will take 350 ship-years to complete mapping the ocean deeper than 200 meters. That is, one research ship equipped with a modern multibeam echosounder would take 350 years to accurately map the ocean deeper than 200 meters. The initiative could cost as much as $3 billion.

How much money have you raised?

The Nippon Foundation has pledged $2 million US dollars per year as seed money to get the Seabed 2030 project off the ground. In February 2018, the Chairman of The Nippon Foundation, Mr Yohei Sasakawa, called on the international community to rally together to support the project’s goal, adding no single organization could finance the programme alone.

What is the project team?

The Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project is an international network of leading ocean scientists and ocean mapping experts. It has four regional centers and a global center and is managed by a Project Director.

The regional centers will be responsible for championing mapping activities; assembling and compiling bathymetric information and collaborating with existing mapping initiatives within their regions. The global center will be responsible for producing and delivering global GEBCO products.

Project Director

The project is being led by Mr. Satinder Bindra: , who was appointed as its first director in February 2018.

Centers

Where will all the data be stored?

This critical function will be performed by the IHO Data Center for Digital Bathymetry (IHO DCDB), hosted by the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), Boulder, Colorado, USA, which is the recognized IHO repository for all deep ocean bathymetric data (deeper than 100m) collected by hydrographic, oceanographic and other vessels. Seabed 2030 will maintain strong working relationships with the IHO DCDB and recommend it to potential data contributors.

How many countries and institutions are supporting this work?

To date, The Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project has drawn on the experience of some 40 international organizations and networks spread across more than 50 countries.

What’s the role of the private sector?

Private companies hold large volumes of data that are not publicly available. Seabed2030 is partnering with large offshore surveying and engineering companies, which deploy multibeam echo sounder equipped vessels to gather bathymetric data for their clients.

While it may not be possible to obtain all such data due to client sensitivities, Seabed2030 has acquired 65,000 square kilometers (approximately 25,097 square miles) of 'transit data' from two Fugro ships. Recently, the company has agreed to provide similar data from another two of its ships. Thanks to innovations in its technology platform, Fugro’s ships are able to collect data without dedicated staff on board. The company’s exemplary leadership needs to be replicated.

To avoid duplication of mapping efforts, private sector organizations can indicate which sections of the ocean have already been mapped for oil exploration, deep sea cable routing etc. This will enable scientists to plan mapping expeditions to areas for which no data exists.

The private sector is also well placed to drive technological innovation that will take the project forwards, in terms of vessel design, automation and data transfer.

What’s the role of technology?

The use of existing and emerging technologies will play a central role in the Seabed 2030 project.

As multibeam echo sounders become more affordable, it will be possible to equip more vessels to contribute to the global effort. The increasing availability of this technology will also facilitate new applications.

The evolution of remote technology or vehicles that can map the seafloor without a human onboard will also play a critical role. Already, companies are developing unmanned surface vessels and underwater submersibles capable of diving several thousand meters below sea level and conducting ocean-mapping missions.

How can I get involved?

Seabed 2030 cannot map the entire ocean by itself. Co-operation and collaboration is key. The time has come for all of us – international organizations, universities, non-Governmental organizations, maritime industries (fishing boats, survey companies, shipping lines, oil and gas companies, cruise operators, submarine cable companies), youth organizations and citizens - to support Seabed 2030 by either consolidating pre-existing data, providing data that are currently not in the public domain, planning cruises to previously unmapped regions or by helping us get the message out for building a strong global community.

This will help create a truly international movement for building a global common good and can be among the best legacies we can pass on to the next generation.

Find out how to get involved.

What role will be the Nippon Foundation-GEBCO alumni play in the project?

With funding from The Nippon Foundation, GEBCO facilitates a Postgraduate Certificate in Ocean Bathymetry at the University of New Hampshire, USA. This is helping to train a new generation of scientists, hydrographers and ocean stewards who work for government agencies, scientific institutions, international organizations and the private sector spread across over 35 countries.

These ambassadors are part of Seabed 2030’s growing global community of supporters and help amplify its key messages. The project plans to use their unique skills to process and tag data to produce the best possible bathymetric maps.

What is the role of the GEBCO-Nippon Foundation Alumni XPRIZE team?

The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE is a global competition challenging teams to advance deep-sea technologies for autonomous, fast and high-resolution ocean exploration. As champions of innovation, the GEBCO-Nippon Foundation Alumni Team have been participating in the competition and recently shared a $1 million prize with 9 other teams for progressing to the final round.

The team's concept utilizes an Unmanned Surface Vessel, which has the unique ability to launch and recover an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV). Once deployed, the AUV can autonomously map the seafloor, before returning and docking with the surface vessel. All this is accomplished without humans on board and data processors on shore can use the recovered data to produce bathymetric maps of the surveyed area.

The USV/AUV model has the potential to significantly reduce the time and cost of ocean mapping missions, which would assist the Seabed 2030 project.

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