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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 7th October 2016 > DEEP SECRETS

DEEP SECRETS

Some 85 percent of the world’s seafloor hasn’t been mapped. Scientists plan to change that

@Douglas_Main

THE UNKNOWN hit the USS San Francisco like a torpedo. On January 8, 2005, the nuclear submarine was barreling along at 38 miles per hour, 525 feet beneath the surface. Such vessels often travel in virtual blindness, forgoing radar and its telltale pings; the crew relied on seaofloor charts to navigate. But the maps were incomplete.

About 360 miles southeast of Guam, the sub slammed into an unmapped underwater mountain. The collision sent sailors crashing into walls and flying across rooms. Nearly 100 of 137 crew members aboard were injured, and one died from a massive head wound. Commander Kevin Mooney was discharged and reprimanded by Navy higher-ups for “an ill-advised voyage plan” because one map noted that there was a potential navigational hazard several miles from the site of impact, but the lack of precise charts undoubtedly played a major role in the accident.

Welcome to life on a little-known planet. To date, more than 85 percent of the seafloor has not been mapped using modern methods. Since 70 percent of the Earth is covered in oceans, this means that we quite literally don’t know our own planet. “We know the surface of Mars better than we do the seafloor,” says Martin Jakobsson, a researcher at Stockholm University.

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