Scientists have created the world's first digital map of the seafloor's geology in an effort to better predict how Earth's oceans will respond to environmental changes in the future.
The last map spanning 70 percent of the Earth's surface was hand-drawn in the 1970s, so this comprehensive new map is long overdue, the University of Sydney reported.
"In order to understand environmental change in the oceans we need to better understand what is preserved in the geological record in the seabed," said lead researcher Adriana Dutkiewicz from the University of Sydney. "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."
Phytoplankton called diatoms produce about a quarter of the oxygen we breath, and play a huge role in the battle against global warming because their dead bodies sink to the bottom of the ocean and lock in carbon. This new map reveals diatom concentrations on the bottom of the ocean are completely independent of blooms on the surface, and the disconnect shows we still have a lot to learn about the carbon sink.
"Our research opens the door to future marine research voyages aimed at better understanding the workings and history of the marine carbon cycle. Australia's new research vessel Investigator is ideally placed to further investigate the impact of environmental change on diatom productivity. We urgently need to understand how the ocean responds to climate change," Dutkiewicz said.
Some of the most significant changes seen on the groundbreaking map were located in regions surrounding Australia.
"The old map suggests much of the Southern Ocean around Australia is mainly covered by clay blown off the continent, whereas our map shows this area is actually a complex patchwork of microfossil remains,"mDutkiewicz said. "Life in the Southern Ocean is much richer than previously thought."
To make their findings, the researchers analyzed and categorized over 15,000 seafloor samples that had been collected over the course of a century.
"Recent images of Pluto's icy plains are spectacular, but the process of unveiling the hidden geological secrets of the abyssal plains of our own planet was equally full of surprises!" said co-author Simon O'Callaghan from NICTA.
The findings were published in a recent edition of the journal Geology.