New Ocean Map Reveals Thousands of New Sea Mounts

Posted on October 11, 2014

North Atlantic Marine Gravity Map

Scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego (UCSD) and their colleagues created a new map of the ocean floor that reveals thousands of previously unknown sea mounts. The researchers used satellite altimetry data to study the gravity pull variations on the ocean floor. Much of the data came from the ESA's CryoSat-2. Data from the Jason-1 satellite was also used.

Water and thick sediment has made it difficult to map the surface at the bottom of Earth's oceans. The surface of Mars is better known than the surface of our deep oceans. Ships can survey the ocean bottom but their slow speeds means it would take hundreds of ship years and cost billions of dollars to map the entire ocean floor. Fortunately, the gravitational variations on the ocean floor as measured by satellites can be used to determine the topography. This data was used to create the new global map.

The image above is a marine gravity model of the North Atlantic. These new ocean maps also show faults and earthquakes (represented by red dots) in addition to underwater hills and mountains. You can find more of the maps here on a UCSD webpage.

David Sandwell, the lead author of the paper, says in a statement, "The kinds of things you can see very clearly now are abyssal hills, which are the most common land form on the planet."

The researchers say the new map is twice as accurate as the previous map created about 20 years ago. This video from Scripps Oceanography shows you some of the findings around the globe with the new ocean maps. The video shows the fracture zones around our planet and some unexplored ocean ridges discovered by the virtual gravity gradients on the maps. Take a look:

A research paper on the new global marine gravity model can be found here in the journal Science.

Photo: David Sandwell, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego