More than half the world is still unmapped — but not for long

By the end of this decade, Seabed 2030 wants to produce accurate maps for the remaining 80 percent of the ocean floor.

More than half the world is still unmapped — but not for long

Shipping lanes and coastal waters tend to be well mapped, but not much else.

Credit: Andrew Douglas-Clifford / The Map Kiwi. Reproduced with kind permission.
  • About 56 percent of the Earth's surface has not yet been mapped.
  • The uncharted area corresponds to 80 percent of the ocean floor.
  • But that area is shrinking fast. By 2030, the entire ocean will be mapped.

Research vessel collecting hydrographic data via multibeam sonar, fanning out sound waves beneath its hull to the ocean floor. Credit: NOAA / Public domain

Dear billionaires, are you afraid of water? While Jeff, Elon, and Richard are throwing mountains of cash at a private-sector replay of the space race, more than half of the planet they take off from remains unmapped. To be precise: 80 percent of the ocean floor. Considering oceans cover 70 percent of Earth, that works out to 56 percent of its total surface.

The Japanese, champion ocean mappers

This map puts what is missing into perspective. The light areas are already mapped. For the dark patches, we often only have the slightest understanding of the local depth and shape of the ocean floor.

The distribution of light and dark tells us something about the progress of submarine mapping. Light-blue lines crossing the dark-blue expanse are busy, well-charted shipping lanes. Larger light-blue patches correspond to the waters of countries where mapping their bit of ocean is a priority.

  • As the map (and the graph) shows, Japan leads the world: only 2.3 percent of its Exclusive Economic Zone remains unmapped.
  • Next, at some distance, are the UK (9.4 percent of its EEZ unmapped), Norway (18.1 percent), and New Zealand (26 percent).
  • The U.S. is not doing too poorly, with just 30.1 percent of its EEZ left to chart. Yet Hawaii, mentioned separately here, has almost half (47.5 percent) of its EEZ left to explore.
  • China has no maps of almost nine-tenths (88.6 percent) of its ocean floor. But that's still better than the stragglers on the list: Madagascar (94.5 percent), Bangladesh (96.7 percent), and Thailand (98.5 percent).

Up from 6 percent in 2017

As of the middle of this year, the share of the world's total ocean floor that has been mapped in detail stands at 20.6 percent. That may not sound like a lot, but it's already a great improvement over 2017, when Seabed 2030 was launched. Back then, just 6 percent of the world's oceans had been mapped by modern means.

Unmapped areas of the ocean floor, as per the 2020 dataset. Due to COVID, the coverage only progressed from 19 percent last year to 20.6 percent this year. Credit: Andrew Douglas-Clifford / The Map Kiwi. Reproduced with kind permission.

The project's goal to achieve 100 percent public access coverage by 2030 is ambitious, but they have help. Seabed 2030 is urging the many governments, companies, and institutions who privately have data on non-covered areas to release it.

It is also crowdsourcing by asking just about any vessel that is willing and able to produce depth data to contribute to the effort – even if it's just an ordinary fishing vessel or a tiny yacht.

Why do we need ocean floor maps?

Why do we actually need better maps of the ocean floor? One answer is curiosity. Another is science. Another is navigation. As a relevant example, take the tragic accident of the USS San Francisco in 2005.

Cruising at a depth of no more than 525 feet (160 m) somewhere south of Guam, this U.S. Navy nuclear attack submarine collided head-on with an uncharted seamount. The violent collision injured more than two-thirds of the ship's 137-member crew. One sailor later died from his injuries. The sub itself also sustained heavy damage.

Knowing the terrain underwater is essential for rolling out cables, pipelines, and other underwater infrastructure. It will make it easier to spot and protect marine biodiversity (with seamounts often serving as hotspots). The shape of the ocean floor also influences currents, and thus also weather patterns and climate change. And insights into submarine geography may even be instrumental in predicting the course of future tsunamis.

The return of Boaty McBoatface

Seabed 2030 is a project funded by the Nippon Foundation and GEBCO, the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans. The project's aim is to bring together all available bathymetric data to produce a definitive, all-encompassing, and open-access map of the world's ocean floor by 2030.

The Drake Passage between South America and Antarctica has been mapped thanks to the tweaking of usual sailing routes.Credit: Andrew Douglas-Clifford / The Map Kiwi. Reproduced with kind permission.

It seems the project is already creating its own weather, so to speak. British research vessels plying the waters of the Drake Passage have modified their usual routes in order to map more of the area, with noticeable results.

One of the British ships contributing to the global mapping effort is the RRS Sir David Attenborough, specially equipped with a deep-water multibeam echo-sounding system. The research vessel is perhaps better known for its initial name, chosen by the British public in a poll the result of which was sadly rejected by the authorities: Boaty McBoatface.

Increasingly, so-called USVs (uncrewed surface vessels) — essentially, underwater drones — are deployed to map ever larger parts of the ocean. And yes, the mysteries of the deep have also captured the imagination of at least one billionaire. As explained by the BBC's Jonathan Amos, Texan billionaire Victor Vescovo has led expeditions to the deepest parts of the world's oceans. With his vessel DSSV Pressure Drop, Vescovo recently mapped an area the size of France in a mere ten months.

Thanks to his efforts and those of many others, future versions of this map will turn increasingly light blue. Around the year 2030, there will finally be nothing new left to map on this planet.

Map produced by Andrew Douglas-Clifford, a.k.a. The Map Kiwi. Reproduced with kind permission.

The map shows the world in the Spilhaus projection. For more on that see Strange Maps #939, Finally, a world map that's all about oceans.

Strange Maps #1095

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CT scans of shark intestines find Nikola Tesla’s one-way valve

Evolution proves to be just about as ingenious as Nikola Tesla

Credit: Gerald Schömbs / Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • For the first time, scientists developed 3D scans of shark intestines to learn how they digest what they eat.
  • The scans reveal an intestinal structure that looks awfully familiar — it looks like a Tesla valve.
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Are we really addicted to technology?

Fear that new technologies are addictive isn't a modern phenomenon.

Credit: Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink, which has partnered with the Build for Tomorrow podcast to go inside new episodes each month. Subscribe here to learn more about the crazy, curious things from history that shaped us, and how we can shape the future.

In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Through smartphones, apps, and social media platforms we can now work more efficiently and connect in ways that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.

But as we've grown to rely on technology for a lot of our professional and personal needs, most of us are asking tough questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. Are we becoming too dependent on technology to the point that it's actually harming us?

In the latest episode of Build for Tomorrow, host and Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer takes on the thorny question: is technology addictive?

Popularizing medical language

What makes something addictive rather than just engaging? It's a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question could be: are the creators of popular digital technologies, like smartphones and social media apps, intentionally creating things that are addictive? If so, should they be held responsible?

To answer those questions, we've first got to agree on a definition of "addiction." As it turns out, that's not quite as easy as it sounds.

If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people.


"Over the past few decades, a lot of effort has gone into destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which of course is a very good thing," Feifer explains. It also means that medical language has entered into our vernacular —we're now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.

"We've all got that one friend who says, 'Oh, I'm a little bit OCD' or that friend who says, 'Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'" Liam Satchell, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on the podcast, says. He's concerned about how the word "addiction" gets tossed around by people with no background in mental health. An increased concern surrounding "tech addiction" isn't actually being driven by concern among psychiatric professionals, he says.

"These sorts of concerns about things like internet use or social media use haven't come from the psychiatric community as much," Satchell says. "They've come from people who are interested in technology first."

The casual use of medical language can lead to confusion about what is actually a mental health concern. We need a reliable standard for recognizing, discussing, and ultimately treating psychological conditions.

"If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people," Satchell says. That's why, according to Satchell, the psychiatric definition of addiction being based around experiencing distress or significant family, social, or occupational disruption needs to be included in any definition of addiction we may use.

Too much reading causes... heat rashes?

But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both popularizing medical language and the fear that new technologies are addictive aren't totally modern phenomena.

Take, for instance, the concept of "reading mania."

In the 18th Century, an author named J. G. Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called "reading mania." This condition, Heinzmann explained, could cause many symptoms, including: "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

"That is all very specific! But really, even the term 'reading mania' is medical," Feifer says.

"Manic episodes are not a joke, folks. But this didn't stop people a century later from applying the same term to wristwatches."

Indeed, an 1889 piece in the Newcastle Weekly Courant declared: "The watch mania, as it is called, is certainly excessive; indeed it becomes rabid."

Similar concerns have echoed throughout history about the radio, telephone, TV, and video games.

"It may sound comical in our modern context, but back then, when those new technologies were the latest distraction, they were probably really engaging. People spent too much time doing them," Feifer says. "And what can we say about that now, having seen it play out over and over and over again? We can say it's common. It's a common behavior. Doesn't mean it's the healthiest one. It's just not a medical problem."

Few today would argue that novels are in-and-of-themselves addictive — regardless of how voraciously you may have consumed your last favorite novel. So, what happened? Were these things ever addictive — and if not, what was happening in these moments of concern?

People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm.


There's a risk of pathologizing normal behavior, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological assessment at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and guest on the podcast. He's on a mission to understand how we can suss out what is truly addictive behavior versus what is normal behavior that we're calling addictive.

For Billieux and other professionals, this isn't just a rhetorical game. He uses the example of gaming addiction, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past half-decade. The language used around the subject of gaming addiction will determine how behaviors of potential patients are analyzed — and ultimately what treatment is recommended.

"For a lot of people you can realize that the gaming is actually a coping (mechanism for) social anxiety or trauma or depression," says Billieux.

"Those cases, of course, you will not necessarily target gaming per se. You will target what caused depression. And then as a result, If you succeed, gaming will diminish."

In some instances, a person might legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology, and require the corresponding treatment — but that treatment might be the wrong answer for another person.

"None of this is to discount that for some people, technology is a factor in a mental health problem," says Feifer.

"I am also not discounting that individual people can use technology such as smartphones or social media to a degree where it has a genuine negative impact on their lives. But the point here to understand is that people are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm."

Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing for professionals to diagnose — even more so since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, introduced a new idea about addiction in 2013.

"The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction — this is the first time that substance addiction was directly categorized with any kind of behavioral addiction," Feifer says.

"And then, the DSM-5 went a tiny bit further — and proposed that other potentially addictive behaviors require further study."

This might not sound like that big of a deal to laypeople, but its effect was massive in medicine.

"Researchers started launching studies — not to see if a behavior like social media use can be addictive, but rather, to start with the assumption that social media use is addictive, and then to see how many people have the addiction," says Feifer.

Learned helplessness

The assumption that a lot of us are addicted to technology may itself be harming us by undermining our autonomy and belief that we have agency to create change in our own lives. That's what Nir Eyal, author of the books Hooked and Indistractable, calls 'learned helplessness.'

"The price of living in a world with so many good things in it is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors to moderate our use," Eyal says. "One surefire way to not do anything is to believe you are powerless. That's what learned helplessness is all about."

So if it's not an addiction that most of us are experiencing when we check our phones 90 times a day or are wondering about what our followers are saying on Twitter — then what is it?

"A choice, a willful choice, and perhaps some people would not agree or would criticize your choices. But I think we cannot consider that as something that is pathological in the clinical sense," says Billieux.

Of course, for some people technology can be addictive.

"If something is genuinely interfering with your social or occupational life, and you have no ability to control it, then please seek help," says Feifer.

But for the vast majority of people, thinking about our use of technology as a choice — albeit not always a healthy one — can be the first step to overcoming unwanted habits.

For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.

Why the U.S. and Belgium are culture buddies

The Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural map replaces geographic accuracy with closeness in terms of values.

According to the latest version of the Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map, Belgium and the United States are now each other's closest neighbors in terms of cultural values.

Credit: World Values Survey, public domain.
Strange Maps
  • This map replaces geography with another type of closeness: cultural values.
  • Although the groups it depicts have familiar names, their shapes are not.
  • The map makes for strange bedfellows: Brazil next to South Africa and Belgium neighboring the U.S.
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