New Zealand has joined a sprawling effort to map the ocean floor of the entire world by the year 2030.
Called Seabed 2030, the project is a collaboration between The Nippon Foundation in Japan and the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO).
The work will be co-ordinated by four regional centres around the globe, with Niwa, GNS Science and Land Information New Zealand jointly governing the South and West Pacific Ocean Regional Data Assembly and Co-ordination Centre.
The centre would be based at Niwa in Wellington and look after an area equivalent to a quarter of the world's oceans, covering much of the Pacific Ocean from South America to Australia, and the western part of the Northern Pacific Ocean to Japan.
This also included the Mariana and Kermadec Trenches, both of which are more than 10km deep.
The project aimed to combine all existing bathymetric data into a unified database, promote efforts to collect new data on the ocean floor and to generate maps of all ocean floor features larger than 100m.
According to The Nippon Foundation, less than 15 per cent of the world's ocean floor was adequately mapped.
The foundation said the project was aiming for 100 per cent coverage by 2030 by compiling data from around the globe and turning it into digital maps that can be made available to the public.
The project would also identify gaps where data are lacking.
"The topography of the ocean floor is far less known than the surfaces of Mercury, Venus, Mars, and the moons of several planets including Earth's," the foundation said.
Knowledge of the shape of the seafloor was crucial for understanding ocean circulation patterns that distribute heat between the tropics and the poles - a key component of Earth's climate system.
Detailed measurements of ocean depth were also crucial for modelling tsunami inundation of coastal areas.
"In addition, ocean bathymetry is important for the study of tides, wave action, sediment transport, underwater geohazards, cable routing, fisheries management, resource exploration, military applications, and the establishment of sovereign rights over the seafloor."
The completed maps would be released on NF-GEBCO Seabed 2030's official website and will also be made available for online resources such as Google Earth and ESRI's Ocean Basemap.
Niwa marine geologist Dr Geoffroy Lamarche said the work would require close collaboration and involvement of all coastal states co-ordinated by the centre.
"Such information is critical to enable coastal states to properly manage and protect the benthic (at and near the seafloor) environment from the coast to the greatest abyssal depths of the ocean."
Manager of the Marine Geoscience group at GNS Science, Vaughan Stagpoole, said New Zealand participation in the project would help develop international collaborations and lead to technological innovation for mapping in areas where data could not be collected efficiently using existing technologies.
"Already, 24 government and research organisations, institutions, universities, and businesses around the world have agreed to participate in this project, and this number is expected to grow significantly."
Land Information New Zealand national hydrographer Adam Greenland said it already had work under way that would contribute to this global initiative.
"We're currently mapping the seabed in several areas around the country, with plans for much more over the next 10 years to support safety at sea.
"The data we collect and have collected in the past will be made available, supporting the aims of Seabed 2030."