An ambitious project to chart the seabed by 2030 could help countries prepare for tsunamis, protect marine habitats and monitor deep-sea mining. But the challenge is unprecedented
On a wall facing Vicki Ferrini’s desk hangs a giant map of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. At 6ft by 8ft, it’s the largest size available on the printer at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, where she works as a geoinformatics researcher. “I of course want it even bigger,” she says.
The map is busier than a usual world map. Rather than showing featureless, flat blue ocean, here the seafloor bursts with detail: mountains, canyons, channels and plains that resemble the texture of land. Ferrini encourages her staff to print pictures of the seafloor features they’re researching and tack them to the map. One example off the coast of Argentina shows ripples in the seafloor reaching a hundred metres high. The map has a distinctly Sherlock Holmes-about-to-break-a-big-case look to it. “I’m trying to see the scale of the ocean,” she explains. “The big picture – but also the fine details.”