Progress Toward a Comprehensive Map of the Seafloor
Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD,
9500 Gilman Dr,
La Jolla, CA 92093-0220,
During recent years, a number of global efforts have succeeded in allowing data from altimetry missions, shuttle radar, and shipboard echo sounding to be merged, catalogued, and disseminated online to a wide audience. Progress at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and other organizations will be summarized. However, despite the best intentions and efforts of many, in the last five years the marine science community has made only modest progress in acquiring new seafloor mapping data. Indeed, the pace of acoustic mapping of new seafloor areas has actually dropped.
The situation will probably get worse before it gets better. For example, in the USA the recent jump in fuel costs puts even more stress on vessel operations, which were already threatened by declining budgets. It is not uncommon for vessels to be laid up for 3-5 months this year, due to lack of funds. At the same time, the number and quality of proposals for sea going science continues to grow. Programs that are lucky enough to be funded are being postponed 1-2 years to fit into reduced schedules. Programs that target a localized objective, including repeat visits, are more likely to be funded than broad reconnaissance and exploration cruises. There is a continuing demand for site surveys to support the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, but fewer resources are available to accomplish the work. Little progress has been made in obtaining commitments to replace the aging fleet of global research vessels. This is a troubling scenario for young researchers, as they consider embarking on a career in the marine sciences.
While satellite altimetry will never replace detailed acoustic investigation of the seafloor, a higher resolution system can help to overcome roadblocks in many areas, such as support for oceanographic expedition planning, the identification of patterns of tectonic fabric, and the modeling of regional phenomena such as tsunamis and ocean mixing. Unfortunately now, more than ever, there is a need for a high resolution altimetry mission.