Two satellites, using gravity measurements, have unveiled the most detailed map yet of the ocean floor. What they found was incredible. Thousands of previously unknown underwater mountains, known as seamounts, were discovered. These seamounts range in height between 3,000 and 6,500 feet.

The satellite pair also discovered a series of inactive ridges where the Earth’s continents once separated millions of years ago.

The new ‘map’ comes from a pair of satellites whose original goal is far different from the result produced.

The CryoSat-2’s original mission was to monitor polar ice caps. Jason-1 was built to monitor sea levels. But, both satellites came equipped with radar altimeters. These are used to measure distances from the surface to the satellite.

ocean floor map

As CryoSat-2 and Jason-1 passed over the world’s oceans several times a day, they bounced signals off the surface of the ocean. Take into account wave height and tides, and the above map starts to come into shape.

The ocean surface’s shape is influenced by the gravity from huge mountains and canyons below. By mapping out the topography of the sea surface, researchers are also mapping the bottom based on these gravity measurements.

“One of the most important uses of this new marine gravity field will be to improve the estimates of seafloor depth in the 80 percent of the oceans that remains uncharted or is buried beneath thick sediment,” the authors say in the report.

Space is known as the final frontier, but the depths of our ocean floor remain a mystery to us to this day. This new map gives us our clearest look yet, but at five-kilometer resolution, precise details are still tough to come by.

Image credit: David Sandwell, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

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