As of 2023, 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water.
And yet, over 80% of the world’s oceans remain unmapped, making it difficult for scientists to understand the full picture of ocean sustainability, topography, and biodiversity.
Luckily, an American company has set out to change things. California-based technology startup Saildrone — with the help of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) — recently completed a historic, crewless mission to map over 17,000 square miles of the previously unknown ocean floor around Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and off the California coast.
The mission was undertaken by the Saildrone Surveyor, which the company calls “the world’s largest uncrewed ocean mapping vehicle.” The vessel took 52 days to map the area around the Aleutian Islands before embarking upon its second mission off the California coast.
The missions, which mapped “high priority” areas across “key regions” in high resolution, yielded unexpected discoveries, such as “a previously unknown seamount standing approximately 1,000 meters [3,200 feet] high.”
Government officials have been effusive about the mission’s success.
“Every American, in one way or another, depends on the ocean — from protein from fish to feed animals or humans, to deep-sea cables that make the internet possible,” Dr. Aurora Elmore, cooperative institute manager at NOAA Ocean Exploration, said in a press release. “The only way the U.S. can maximize our ocean resources is to understand what’s there.”
In its pursuit of greater ocean understanding, Saildrone has no plans to rest on its laurels.
“Saildrone’s vision is for a healthy ocean and a safe, sustainable planet,” the company’s website reads. “Our measurements and observations, from above and below the ocean surface, provide intelligence and insight for subjects ranging from maritime security to mapping, to earth system processes such as weather forecasting, carbon cycling, global fishing, and climate change. All of which have a tremendous impact on humanity.”
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