Ocean mapping of US waters reaches major milestone

Weather Blog
This image shows the topography of the Okeanos Explorer Seamount. The seamount was named after NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, which played a key role in its discovery in 2016. Colors represent water depth in meters as defined in the color key.

This image shows the topography of the Okeanos Explorer Seamount. The seamount was named after NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, which played a key role in its discovery in 2016. Colors represent water depth in meters as defined in the color key. Image courtesy of NOAA Ocean Exploration, 2016 Hohonu Moana.

(KXAN) — NOAA has now mapped two million square kilometers of the ocean with a high resolution, multi-beam sonar system. Two million square kilometers is equivalent to more than 772,000 square miles or roughly more than one quarter of the size of the lower 48 United States.

The 2 million square kilometers milestone was reached while mapping the Blake Plateau off the coast of the southeastern United States Nov. 1.

The NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer has been responsible for the mapping since being commissioned in 2008. Earlier this year the ship had its mapping technology replaced with even better equipment in order to see more of the ocean floor.

Only waters part of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone were mapped, but it’s part of a long-term goal to map that entire zone by 2040. The goal is broken down into parts — map waters deeper than 40 meters by 2030 and near shore waters by 2040.

NOAA listed several benefits to ocean floor mapping:

  • Discovery of new geological features
  • Enhances the study of marine animals
  • Climatological understanding in order to protect the ocean’s ecosystem
  • Improved marine navigation
  • National security
  • Detection of hazards like earthquakes, underwater landslides and tsunamis
  • Telecommunications
  • Offshore energy

There’s still a long way to go as roughly 50% of the United States seafloor has yet to be mapped to modern standards. NOAA admits that the pace of mapping will need to improve and should do so as technology continues to improve.

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