Why is it vital to scan our sea beds

Seabed 2030 teams, a project to map all the seabed, have just announced that the symbolic 20% mark has just been reached. Much remains to be done, but it is a great step forward in a project of vital importance.

20%: this is the proportion of the seabed today mapped according to modern standards. This symbolic step, reached last Sunday, attests to the progress of the Seabed 2030 project, which aims to map the entire ocean floor within ten years. This ant work will directly benefit industrialists who seek to exploit the resources found there, starting with oil but also minerals: in fact, there are many strategic resources of great value such as cobalt, phosphorus or even diamonds! Prospectors are therefore fond of the smallest square centimeter of precise survey that could indicate the location of these precious deposits. It is also a resource of choice for large telecom companies that lay huge intercontinental cables there. Today, all of our telecommunications is based almost as much on these cables as on satellites, but, despite their size and very careful attention to their resistance, they are not foolproof. It is therefore essential to install them in the least risky places, to ensure the sustainability of our telecommunications because the maintenance of a cable over miles of bottom is not easy!

But it is not only an archival work, carried out for strictly documentary purposes. Knowledge of the topology of the deep sea is a major issue in geology. By analyzing the structures of the seabed, their size, their distribution, geologists can obtain a great deal of information on various phenomena such as volcanism or plate tectonics, which will then be used in other disciplines. But it is not only a fundamental and conceptual science: this project is also invaluable in disciplines at the center of our news as well as for our future. For climatologists, these data make it possible to strengthen the knowledge of phenomena such as the formation of tsunamis or rising sea levels, as many themes that humanity cannot afford to ignore and which can only progress on the database quality like those provided by Seabed 2030.

But this “journey that will greatly benefit humanity” is still in its infancy, since there is still a very large area to cover, as the project director explained to BBC News: about twice the surface of the planet Mars!

An example of a card produced by this process. © Seabed 2030

How to complete this fundamental project on time?

The 2030 deadline will not be easy to keep. As explained in this dossier published in Ocean Acoustics, the more the depth (and therefore the distance to be traveled by the wave), the more it will be “damped” and will lose precision. In addition, there is a risk of picking up unwanted noise that would disturb the surveys, to the point that, according to project officials, it would take more than 300 years for a single vessel to map a little over 90% of the waters over 200m deep …

To meet these deadlines, Seabed 2030 collects data continuously from governments and scientists, but this will not be enough and we will have to continue to increase the number of sonars in circulation. For this, two solutions are discussed. Project teams have already started implementing the first, which is to install mapping instruments on commercial vessels plying the world’s seas and oceans. But ultimately, this Herculean task could well be assumed by drone boats devoted entirely to this task. See you in 2030 to find out if Seabed will have succeeded.

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