Innovation That Matters

Ocean sky view | Photo source Samuel Charron on Unsplash

A company maps the bottom of the sea from space


Satellite technology makes it easier and cheaper to map remote ocean locations and governments better prepare for natural disasters

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Spotted: UK and US-based TCarta Marine is using satellite imagery and machine learning to map the ocean floor from space. TCarta uses sophisticated algorithms to capture depth and detail from satellite images of the ocean, a process called satellite derived bathymetry (SDB). The algorithms base calculations on the spectrums of light that are captured by sensors on satellites in space. These sensors collect specific wavelengths of energy as it is reflected off a surface. The computer determines the depth of the ocean by calculating the relationship between the type and volume of energy picked up by the sensor and the depth of water at set reference points.

The traditional way to map the seafloor uses sonar systems to send sound waves from the bottom of a ship to the seafloor. TCarta’s technology could make it easier and cheaper to map remote locations using satellites. TCarta is using the process to map 5,000 square kilometres of seafloor around the island nation of the Republic of Kiribati. The island country is located in the Pacific Ocean and is threatened by rising sea levels. Mapping the seafloor around the island nation will help the government prepare for natural disasters.

“Most of Kiribati’s islands average less than two metres above sea level at present and the country’s 110,000 inhabitants are amongst the most vulnerable to the effects of sea-level rise and the world’s first potential climate change refugees,” said Kyle Goodrich, TCarta president.

TCarta’s technology is an improvement over the older methods because previously SDB could only determine water depth in calm, clear waters, according to Goodrich. Today the company can determine depths in a variety of water conditions. This technology is also important because it does not require researchers to travel to the area, unlike more traditional ship-borne SONAR mapping techniques.




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