Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Secretly mapping the sea floor

NGA map for Cuba
with data collected by U.S. Navy

From SantaCruzSentinel

The oceans of Earth host creatures as large as Blue whales and microscopic as plankton.
Beneath the surface is a landscape of mountains, valleys and plains.

 Monterey Bay Submarine canyon

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary between Marin County and northern San Luis Obispo County, for instance, has the Monterey Bay Submarine canyon that plunges a mile beneath the bay floor and the Davidson Seamount, nearly 7,500 feet tall though its peak is 4,000 feet below the ocean's surface.

Only about 10 percent of the ocean floor is mapped with the precision that dry land is.
Anyone with access to the internet can find maps developed with methods that have evolved in sophistication since the 1800s, from line and sinker to sophisticated sonar.
Some work has been done by private institutions and government agencies charged with ocean management.

But some was done in secret by the U.S. military including the period known as the "cold war" between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that started after World War II and ended when the former collapsed in 1991.
The Navy's involvement started in 1849, producing maps of the North Atlantic by 1853, and international charts that were published in 1905.
The military's mapping slowed during World War II but was re-engaged in the late 1940s.
Sea floor maps provided strategic information for both the U.S. and Soviet Union in the case of, for example, submarines which were equipped with long-range nuclear missiles.

1945 World War II (WWII) U. S. Navy Map or Nautical Chart of Bombay Harbor, India
NGA chart Mumbaï in the Marine GeoGarage

Terri Morgan, an author and journalist who writes occasionally for the Sentinel, credited the work done in secret by her late father Joseph Morgan and others in the Navy as advancing our understanding of the ocean and the sea floor.
"Since most of the projects my dad was involved in were during the cold war, a lot of his work was classified," she said.
"So it's difficult to find a lot to verify the family stories. But the gist of it all is that the Navy did do a lot of ocean floor mapping during the cold war."

Physiographic Diagram, Atlantic Ocean 
(Heezen, Bruce C.; Tharp, Marie)

After Joseph Morgan participated in the effort to in map the Atlantic he was transferred to the Pacific where his focus was on tracking Soviet submarines.
"There was a series of naval stations along the coast, including Centerville Beach, where he was stationed in 1968 and 1969, Point Sur, and Coos Bay, Oregon that were involved in the same project," Terri Morgan remembered.

Joseph Morgan retired as a captain in the Navy in 1974.
His daughter said he embarked on a second career as a professor at the University of Hawaii and worked on several books.
"His works included The Atlas for Marine Policy in the Southeast Asian Sea which includes maps that focus on the seafloor and not the continents," she told me.
"He also worked on the Ocean Yearbook. He never lost his fascination with the ocean."

"Like most military innovations, war was a good motivator for advancing technology," she said.
The internet, which itself has origins in a Department of Defense project, made large amounts of data readily available worldwide.
The internet search engine Google launched Google Earth which now includes sea floor images based on work done by people such as Joseph Morgan.

To learn how sea floor mapping has evolved over the years, go to NOAA

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