Science maps the seabed

A RESEARCHER from James Cook University has used state-of-the-art technology to produce stunning 3D images of the ocean floor off the state's coast, including a look at the seabed off Bundaberg.

Robin Beaman's three-dimensional model of the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea covers an area of 3 million square kilometres, including the entire Queensland coast, Great Barrier Reef, and the Coral Sea almost to New Caledonia.

The image of the seabed off the Bundaberg region coast shows how quickly it drops off into deep water.

“It certainly gives you a sense of how dramatic the undersea landscape is and how little we really know about it,” Dr Beaman said.

“With 3D visualisation software, users can experience a thrilling sense of discovery as they glide over the sea floor. It's like diving on a grand scale, looking at landscape features rather than individual corals."

Creating the 3D depth model took more than three years, using data collected from a wide range of sources, including multi-beam and single-beam echo sounders, airborne laser bathymetry and satellite imagery.

Dr Beaman liaised with multiple government agencies and other researchers who have collected bathymetry data in the region over the years.

After gathering and processing about 900 million individual depth points, Dr Beaman collaborated with the US Scripps Institution of Oceanography to develop a method to convert the data points into a gridded surface, which can then be viewed as a 3D map.

Scientists have identified several uses for the information.

Dr Beaman said scientists who were tracking ocean currents around the Great Barrier Reef needed to understand the underlying shape of the seabed.

“There are lots of really good scientific uses,” he said.

“It also has public education uses, to show people that when you strip back the water there is a complex environment there.”

Dr Beaman said he was excited by the sheer scale of the seabed geography.



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