Vast areas of New Zealand's sea floor have been mapped in never-before-seen detail by the country's scientists.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) undersea New Zealand map captures about 1.5 million square kilometres of seafloor in 20 times the resolution of previous versions.

Niwa ocean geologist Helen Neil said the map, which would also be available in 3D, showed the 'texture' of the seafloor and would help a range of people understand more about our extensive marine environment.

"New Zealand sits across a plate boundary, resulting in a diverse seascape of ridges, volcanoes, plateaux, canyons and seamounts.


"Recent technological advances mean we can now map the seabed in detail approaching that of terrestrial (land) mapping,'' Dr Neil said.

Among the areas mapped include the West Coast, the Bounty Trough and the Hikurangi Channels - which were all previously represented as simple curves on the old 1997 map.

"The new detail shows the abundance of sinuous canyons and channels that slice through the continental margin, allowing sediment from the land to flow into the deep ocean, both west and east of New Zealand.''

The map is a culmination of NIWA's geological, oceanographic, and fisheries research, and is created from the Crown research institute's database of high-resolution seafloor imagery. It also incorporates significant national and worldwide data sets.

Dr Neil said maps like these produce substantial benefits for all users of the marine environment.