In a remarkable example of using satellite technology, scientists have discovered thousands of mountains beneath the waves of the world’s oceans.
The survey of the mountains was actually unintentional but the yield of data is nothing short of astounding. The underwater volcanoes were discovered by the scientists and researchers at California’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography aka SIO as well as associative organizations who helped in the findings. The findings were published in the journal Science.
The oceans are the least explored areas of the Earth and many have complained over the years that we know more about outer space than we do our own oceans. Now, with this new data and other ocean floor mapping, we have a greater look at what lies beneath the briny deep. David Sandwell the SIO geophysicist and lead paper author pointed out that his teams used new approaches to achieve the remarkable discoveries.
It was the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 and NASA’s own Jason 1 satellites that did the work. The two satellites captured enough data of higher quality that makes their maps twice as accurate than the previous 20 year old maps. The National Science Foundation aka NSF put up the money for the research and it appears that was good money tossed at a great project.
The project gleaned more than just the mountains and volcanoes, it also mapped earthquakes. Most of the mountains were old or dormant volcanoes, some may have been created by plate pressure where tectonic plates meet and compress upwards.
The applications of this research are multi-fold and staggering. An accurate map of th e ocean floors has been dreamed of for years. Many people had assumed that the US and its allies had already done high resolution mapping of the oceans and knew where every nook and cranny is. This may be true but if so it’s classified and the public wouldn’t know it. However this new data is clear enough and out in the public. It can help with so many of the physical sciences, navigation, weather, ocean patterns, geological history and who knows what else.
Since this research used already existing satellites that were designed for other purposes it points to the value of reusing tools already available to achieve great results. This saves money across the board in a mega way. No need to launch more expensive payloads, train staff, just point the satellites to another area and you’re good to go.