DURHAM -- There’s an estimated three billion acres of ocean in U.S. territory and the University of New Hampshire is helping put it on the map.
UNH researchers were recently chosen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to be part of a consortium to help chart the ocean floor here and in other parts of the world.
Professor Larry Mayer is the director of UNH’s Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping and the School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering. He said that only 15 percent of the world’s ocean floor is mapped.
Mayer has been on nine mapping cruises to the Arctic and this summer he is going to Greenland for the third time to map the ocean floor as scientists work to understand if warm water is getting under the Ryder Glacier and causing it melt.
“We’re going to places we have never been before,” Mayer said on Wednesday.
Mayer explained that since its inception in 2000, the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping and Joint Hydrographic Center at UNH has grown rapidly. They now have more than 100 people and receive between $12 million and $15 million in funding each year from the NOAA, U.S. Navy and National Science Foundation.
NOAA is supporting the work by UNH, the University of Rhode Island, the University of Southern Mississippi, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Ocean Exploration Trust with $94 million over the next five years.
Mayer said the research will help scientists address a critical gap in understanding the planet, and their work may lead to new discoveries that will help people better manage and sustain the resources the ocean has to offer.
In Portsmouth Harbor on Wednesday afternoon, students in the Nippon Foundation/GEBCO Ocean Bathymetry training program at UNH explained how they are using sonar technology to aid in the mapping process on the Gulf Surveyor. Some of them are from other countries and plan to bring what they learn back home.
Victoria Obura is from Kenya. She works in the coastal city of Mombasa at her country’s Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning.
“We have oil wells. We have maritime disputes with bordering nations, so this experience, and what I’ve learned so much here, is to collect data to create how you can know your boundaries,” Obura said.
Research scientist Semme Dijkstra explained how the sonar equipment they use works.
“It’s just like a sonogram, really. It’s exactly the same idea. What we’re looking for is not a baby, it’s the bottom,” Dijkstra said. “So, bit by bit, we’re building up an image of the sea floor.”
A team of 16 alumni who participated in the training program at UNH was recently awarded $4 million for their pioneering ocean mapping technology, which paired an unmanned surface vehicle with an unmanned underwater vehicle to map the seafloor. The technology produced a five-meter horizontal resolution map as well as high-definition images of biological, archaeological and geographic features of the ocean environment.
This technology will aid the Nippon Foundation’s Seabed 2030 mission, which is to develop a complete map of the 140 million square miles of ocean floor over the course of the next 11 years.