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New Map Brings Southern Ocean Into Relief

by Michael Keller

Map enthusiasts take note: An international team of scientists has created a complete digital map of the entire Antarctic seafloor.

It’s the first time a complete map of the continent’s surrounding bathymetric data, the seafloor’s depth and relief, has been stitched together. Until now, such detailed information has only been available for a few coastal Antarctic areas.

(Click on the chart above for a large (30 MB) version. Courtesy Jan Erik Arndt et al./IBCSO/Alfred Wegener Institute)

According to an announcement by the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), which led the effort that included scientists from 15 countries and more than 30 research institutions, the highly accurate chart will help investigators better understand sea currents, geological processes and marine life.

“We were ultimately able to work with a data set comprising some 4.2 billion individual values,” says Jan Erik Arndt, the editor of the International Bathymetric Chart of the Southern Ocean and AWI expert.

Instead of digitizing existing nautical charts, the team incorporated detailed data from water-depth sounding instruments aboard research ships and mathematical models to interpolate three-dimensional geographic data points on the seafloor.

Their resulting chart offers 500-square-meter resolution of the waters south of 60 degrees south latitude, which demarcates the northern extent of the Southern Ocean.

"The ocean south of the 60th parallel extends over an area of some 21 million square kilometers and is therefore around 60 times as large as the Federal Republic of Germany,” Arndt said. “Reliable bathymetric data have so far existed for only 17 percent of this area."

Top Image: Multibeam bathymetric survey techniques provide a rapid means of determining the morphology and nature of the seafloor. The recent Hydrosweep DS-2 System onboard RV Polarstern provides 59 individual soundings of the water depth and echo strength for each ping. Illustration courtesy of Alfred Wegener Institute.

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