High-Tech Mapping Sheds New Light on the Atlantic Seafloor

As the sun goes down over the surface of the Atlantic, a new era dawns thousands of feet below. (Photo Courtesy Tommy Furey)

The ancient Irish may have done it. The Vikings certainly did. And when Columbus made the trip, it ushered in one of the most dramatic periods of change in human history. In 1857, the first transatlantic communication cable had a similar effect.

Now, outfitted with the latest in survey and mapping technology, a team of researchers is making that daunting voyage: crossing the Atlantic by ship. They’re on a reconnaissance mission for the 2016 Seabed Survey Pilot Project, which will create the most detailed map yet of the bottom of the great, cold, and decidedly not “pacific” Atlantic Ocean.

What We Don’t Know

The Transatlantic Ocean Research Alliance between Canada, the European Union, and the United States was set up in 2013 in part to better understand the nature of this section of the world’s ocean and the living systems that make it their home. While important for purely scientific reasons, this information will also help guide the most sustainable use and development of the vast resources in this area.

The scientific team poses onboard as lines cast off in St. Johns. Left to right: Fabio Sacchetti-MI Ireland, Marcos Rosa-IPMA Portugal, Tommy Furey-MI Ireland, Derek Sowers-NOAA USA, Kirk Regular, MI Newfoundland, Slava Sobolev-MI Ireland. (Photo Courtesy Tommy Furey)

There have been maps of the ocean floor before, notably those created by Marie Tharp, and people may have a general image of the bottom of the Atlantic: about midway between the eastern and western continents, there is the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a massive mountain range caused by the great tectonic plates ripping apart.

This amount of information is about as detailed as saying that North America consists of —> Read More