3D maps reveal depths of sea floor

By Anna O'Brien 5 February 2014
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The most detailed 3-D maps of the Queensland coast reveal the mysteries of the sea floor.

ASTOUNDING NEW 3-D IMAGES have revealed, for the first time, the mysteries of Queensland’s coastal watery depths.

Scientists from James Cook University have mapped the sea floor along ancient coral reefs, underwater river beds and extended canyons; among the features are a vast undersea landslide 60 times the size of Uluru and a 5-km abyss. The 3-D model covers 3 million sq. km, stretching from the entire Queensland coast to almost as far as New Caledonia.

“Only six per cent of the Great Barrier Reef area consists of coral reefs. Unfortunately, a vast amount of the reef has been ignored. With this model we are stripping back the water and peering into the depths,” says lead scientist Robin Beaman. “This grid is very much the map of the future. It gives researchers a base on which they can plan future expeditions.”

3D mapping a monumental task

Creating the 3-D undersea model has proved to be a monumental three-year task, which involved Robin and colleagues collecting data from nearly 900 million individual points. They used echo sounders and satellite imagery, with an accuracy down to just 100 m – which is significantly detailed, given the vastness of the area surveyed.

“3D undersea models have already been created by Geoscience Australia, but never to this degree of detail,” says Robin. “This visual representation allows the complexity of the deep ocean to really jump out at you.”

David Souter, research director at the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre believes the map will form a window of opportunity to further understand the formation of the Great Barrier Reef. The model is already being used by oceanographers at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) to simulate ocean current flows that will be used to study the effects of water quality changes on the Great Barrier Reef.

Robin says there is a great future for his depth model which includes working with the Great Barrier Reef marine Park Authority to compare current marine park zoning with seabed features.


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