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World’s first digital map of seafloor geology revealed

Scientists at the University of Sydney’s School of Geosciences have created the world’s first digital map of the seafloor’s geology.

It is the first time the composition of the ocean floor, covering 70% of the Earth’s surface, has been mapped in 40 years. The most recent map was hand drawn in the 1970s.

Adriana Dutkiewicz and colleagues from the University of Sydney analysed and categorised around 15,000 seafloor samples which were taken over half a century on research cruise ships to generate data for the map.

Dutkiewicz worked with the National ICT Australia (NICTA) big data experts to find the best way to use algorithms to turn this multitude of point observations into a continuous digital map.

The data reveals the deep ocean basins to be more complex than previously thought, with some of the most significant changes to the seafloor map in the oceans surrounding Australia.

“The old map suggests much of the Southern Ocean around Australia is mainly covered by clay blown off the continent, whereas our map shows this area is actually a complex patchwork of microfossil remains,” said Dutkiewicz. “Life in the Southern Ocean is much richer than previously thought.

“Our research opens the door to future marine research voyages aimed at better understanding the workings and history of the marine carbon cycle.”

The digital data and interactive map are freely available as open access resources.

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