A team of researchers in Australia has mapped our planet's seafloor in unprecedented detail with the resulting digital map showing an ocean-less Earth that was color-coded with 13 different hues.
The colors represent the different geological features such as volcanic rock, indicated by the color red, and sand, which is represented by yellow.
The mapping of the seabed is the first since the 1970's when a map was drawn by hand. The decades old map also relied heavily on assumption and used a five-color key.
The new digital map, which was published online in the journal Geology on Aug. 5, will allow researchers to have a better understanding of how oceans respond to climate change. It also showed that the deep ocean basin are more complicated than it was previously believed.
"We present the first digital map of seafloor lithologies based on descriptions of nearly 14,500 samples from original cruise reports, interpolated using a support vector machine algorithm," the researchers wrote. "We show that sediment distribution is more complex, with significant deviations from earlier hand-drawn maps, and that major lithologies occur in drastically different proportions globally."
To make the map, the researchers looked at about 15,000 seafloor samples that were gathered over the past 50 years by research ships from around the globe. The researchers afterwards used a technique known as support vector machine to make the digital map bases on the analyses.
University of Sydney sedimentologist and lead author of the paper Adriana Dutkiewicz said that in a bid to understand the environmental changes that occur in the oceans, it is crucial to have an improved understanding of what is preserved in the seabed's geological record.
"The deep ocean floor is a graveyard with much of it made up of the remains of microscopic sea creatures called phytoplankton, which thrive in sunlit surface waters. The composition of these remains can help decipher how oceans have responded in the past to climate change," Dutkiewicz said.
Other maps of the seafloor made use of remote sensing instruments and satellites to identify underwater canyons and mountains but the new map is the first one to describe the seafloor's diverse sedimentary composition, which is important because patterns in sediments can provide scientists with clues on past environmental changes that could hint on the future of our planet.
The map may also help in the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 since it plots the sediments that cover the seabed of the southern Indian Ocean.