Awesome new maps of ocean floor uncover secret depths we never fathomed

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Oct 3, 2014

We humans put a lot of focus on space when it comes to exploration, but there are still more than a few uncharted places right here on ol' Planet Earth. 

Though we keep a fair share of telescopes and satellites aimed at the stars, a mere 10 percent of the Earth’s sea floor has been mapped at high resolution. But all of that is starting to change thanks to some revealing new scans from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at U.C. San Diego.

Popular Science reports that the institute has made use of never-before-used satellite altimeter data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) CryoSat-2 and NASA’s Jason-1 to create some hyper-detailed maps of Earth’s entire seafloor. Already researches have found new underwater mountains and ridges that have never before been charted. Along with actually giving us an inkling of what’s going on down there, the maps can provide a better understanding of deep ocean plate tectonics and ocean basins.

So how’d they do it? The technique is extremely cool. Basically, the maps were generated by measuring the gravity levels at different parts of the ocean. The team reportedly used both satellites to capture the Earth’s gravity field over the oceans. Here’s what lead researcher David Sandwell told Popular Science about the study:

“The satellites orbit the earth and sends out thousands of radar pulses a second. So we use that data to generate a topography of the ocean’s surface. Let’s say you have a volcano on the ocean floor that is 2,000 meters tall. It has extra mass associated with it, and it will perturb the gravity field locally. That perturbation is expressed in the sea surface as a bump.”

Along with mapping new areas, researchers note that the data sheds light on much older underwater areas than had previously been mapped in the 1990s. As Sandwell pointed out, we know more about some alien planets than we do our own oceans: “We need to try to make high resolution maps everywhere.”

Hey, we’re always looking to go where no man has gone before. Why not try down instead of up?

(Via Popular Science)