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New advances in seafloor mapping to contribute to the development of Marine Spatial Planning worldwide

Nearly a fifth of the world’s ocean floor has now been mapped. The announcement, made by the Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project on World Hydrography Day (21 June 2020), suggests major advances in Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) worldwide.

An additional 14.5 million square kilometers of new bathymetric data have been mapped to date, bringing the total seabed coverage from 15% in 2019 to 19% today. When the project was launched in 2017 with the aim to produce the definitive map of the seafloor by 2030 and make it available to all, only 6% of the ocean had been mapped to modern standards.

From the shallow waters of coastal areas down to the deepest parts of our ocean, knowing the depth and shape of the ocean floor is fundamental for understanding key economic and environmental aspects related to MSP. These include ocean circulation, fishing resources, sediment transport, cable and pipeline routing, mineral extraction, oil and gas exploration and development, infrastructure construction and maintenance (e.g. offshore wind farms), shipping and much more.

3D rendering of an offshore wind farm with view of submarine cables.

By strengthening international collaboration and knowledge and data sharing among countries, GEBCO and the Seabed 2030 Project contribute to the development of multipurpose products and services that support science-informed policy making, reduce vulnerability to ocean hazards and promote the sustainable management of ocean resources in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

For instance, the use of coastal digital elevation models combined with thematic charts in coastal zones concretely illustrates the contribution of bathymetric data to a variety of purposes such as Integrated Coastal Area Management, fishing or aquaculture installations and port facilities, including at transboundary level. These data also contribute to coastal hazards forecasting and are a crucial support to tsunami early warning systems across the world.

The latest progress made by the Seabed 2030 Project will further assist the advancement of MSP and the Sustainable Blue Economy worldwide as well as the achievement of the priority actions of the IOC-UNESCO/European Commission Joint Roadmap to accelerate MSP processes worldwide and outcomes of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) to help deliver the Ocean We Need for the Future We Want.

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The General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO) is a joint project of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO. It is the only organization with a mandate to map the entire ocean floor. It has its origins in the GEBCO chart series initiated in 1903 by Prince Albert I of Monaco and aims to provide the most authoritative, publicly-available bathymetric datasets for the world’s oceans.

The Nippon Foundation, a private, non-profit foundation, was established in 1962 for the purpose of carrying out philanthropic activities, using revenue from motorboat racing. The Foundation’s overall objectives include social innovation, assistance for humanitarian activities and global ocean management. Its philanthropic ideals embrace social development and self-sufficiency, and it pursues these principles by working to improve public health and education, alleviate poverty, eliminate hunger and help the disabled.

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