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There is no land left to discover on earth, and all the blank spaces on the map have been filled.  But the oceans still largely remain unexplored.  They are vast, deep, and darker than we can imagine at their deepest depths.  Light only travels so far, and water pressure makes it impossible for humans to descend much further.  This partially explains why it has been so difficult to locate the Malaysian Airlines flight that disappeared over the Indian Ocean earlier this year.

But now, satellites have once again come to the rescue, and researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego have used European and American satellite data to create maps of the entire ocean floor.  As Loren Gush at Popular Science reports, these new maps reveal never-before-seen mountains and valleys under the surface, and help to highlight the faults between tectonic plates.  Here is one image of the North Atlantic:

Marine gravity model of the North Atlantic Ocean. Red dots are earthquakes with magnitude above 5.5, showing the fault lines between the tectonic plates.  (By David Sandwell, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, via Popular Science, http://www.popsci.com/article/science/satellite-data-maps-sea-floors-hidden-depths?src=SOC&dom=tw)

These oceanographic maps also have a practical purpose beyond purely satisfying mankind’s curiosity.  For example, knowledge of the presence of underwater ridges helps to explain gravity fields, which influence the trajectory of submarine missiles.  One hopes that this also leads, eventually, to a fully mapped ocean floor in high definition, so that the next time a plane crashes in the ocean, it will be located and recovered quicker.

This is also a reminder to the explorer who looks up at the stars, yearning for new undiscovered mysteries, that the ocean on our humble planet Earth still contains an expansive, unseen world.

For more on this, here is the Popular Science Article: http://www.popsci.com/article/science/satellite-data-maps-sea-floors-hidden-depths?src=SOC&dom=tw

And for more on the results of the research, go here: http://topex.ucsd.edu/grav_outreach/

 

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