Ocean scientists ‘Ping’ in the New Year

7 Jan 2021
The team of scientists aboard RV Falkor. Image: Deborah Smith

Ocean research has had a strong start to the year, with scientists from The University of Queensland collecting the first public seafloor data of 2021 as part of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainability.

The team of scientists and students aboard the research vessel ‘Falkor’ sent sonar waves down to the ocean floor at midnight on 31 December and throughout New Year’s Day to quite literally ‘Ping in the New Year’.

The expedition is currently mapping and identifying significant seafloor features in the Tasman and Coral seas, off the coast of Queensland.

The expedition is part of a global effort to map the entire ocean floor by 2030 – Seabed2030 – a task which Associate Professor Helen Bostock from the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences says is no easy feat.

“Currently less than 20 per cent of the world’s oceans are mapped, so there are vast areas of the ocean where we know very little about.

“There’s a huge task ahead.”

UQ researchers are collaborating with other Australian institutes, as well as the Schmidt Ocean Institute and The Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project to collect the data.

Seabed 2030 will facilitate the collection and development of complete, 3D-mapping of the global ocean floor by the end of the decade, with the data publicly available.

Science control room for multibeam sonars. Image: Deborah Smith

"We are still learning about the complexity of the seafloor and are always discovering new features," Associate Professor Bostock said.

High-resolution seafloor mapping can provide detailed geological evolution of the seafloor and insight into ocean circulation, which controls the marine environment. This allows for better understanding of where nutrients and pollutants such as microplastics accumulate, and improve tsunami prediction. Features such as volcanic seamounts commonly support vulnerable marine ecosystems and are nurseries for deep sea fish.

“It is important that we refine the map of the seafloor to help manage the oceans and their resources sustainably into the future."

The expedition will continue mapping the Tasman and Coral seas through to 26 January 2021. The maps created will aid in the management of the Coral Sea Marine Park, which sits outside the Great Barrier Reef, and is one of the world’s largest marine parks, spanning nearly 1 million square kilometres of the ocean.