It’s hard to
believe that there are still places on this planet that have yet to be fully
explored and understood. But a number of innovative mapping projects are
working to discover the few uncharted spaces left on Earth.
geography of these remote areas – collecting data and images along the way – provides
more insight into the world around us. The following are some of the coolest
recent and ongoing mapping projects aiding in that mission.
into the unknown
In western Kentucky, the Cave Research Foundation is a group of volunteer spelunkers
who work with local researchers to map new portions of Mammoth Cave, the
longest cave system on Earth. The data recorded from charting the cave has
enabled studies on the underground environment of Mammoth -- its passageways
hiding networks of stalactites, stalagmites, rivers, streams and other
geological formations -- and on the more than 70 wildlife species that call that
environment home, including such endangered animals as Indiana bats and Kentucky
cave shrimp. So far, more than 390 miles of the cave have been mapped.
National Park provides a variety of tours through the cave’s mysterious passageways. The
Introduction to Caving tour takes groups spelunking in certain parts of the
cave system. Though no experience is needed, the tour lasts three-and-a-half
hours and covers two miles, including 280 climbing stairs and some stretches
including crawlspaces. Serious cave enthusiasts can contact the Cave Research
Foundation about volunteering to help survey new sections of the cave.
Google Street View visits the Arctic
Google Street View, the Google Maps team that photographs panoramas around the
world and overlays them on online maps, sent a camera-equipped tricycle (and
rider) to the Canadian Arctic for one of its latest mapping projects, which began in August. The team hopes to give global exposure to the Inuit
culture of the remote Cambridge Bay village, hidden in the Nanavut territory of
the Canadian Arctic. Only accessible by boat or plane, Cambridge Bay is a
community of about 1,500 people and only a few gravel roads. But the project will
also be a chance to map the area’s landscape – including rivers, lakes and
other sites of natural and historic importance, such as shipwrecks, churches
and Mount Pelly mountain – on a minute level. This builds on Street View’s street mapping of Antarctica, gaining Google Maps the
distinction of reaching all seven continents in 2010.
travel is not enough, adventurers in search of pristine wilderness can visit
Nanavut themselves. The territory can be reached by plane from Montreal or
Ottawa (though the airfare won’t be cheap). Cambridge Bay is accessible via
Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories.
Mapping the Arctic seafloor
About 10 years
ago, scientists began mapping the floor of the Barents Sea, off the coast of
Norway in the Arctic Circle. By the end of this year, they will have mapped out
about 33,000 square miles. Like the cave divers in Kentucky, these researchers
are discovering previously unknown places in an atmosphere foreign to most
humans. Their hordes of data include information on the sea’s biodiversity, the
seabed’s topography and on environmental impacts present, such as pollution. Thus
far, they have discovered new species, such as
worm-like beings called polychaetes, and new
cold-water coral reefs. In addition, one goal of the mission is to promote
proper management of the sea, parts of which are used by Norway’s oil, fishing
and shipping industries.
To get close to
the action, some thrill-seekers scuba
dive around this area in Lofoten, Norway. This video from Visit Norway
shows divers exploring these waters, on the lookout for killer whales.
Mapping the Mediterranean seafloor
A team of scientists is using lasers, cameras and advanced sonar
technology to map the floor of the Mediterranean Sea, the Aegean Sea and the
Black Sea off the coasts of Cyprus and Turkey. The most recent leg of the
mission, carried out via an exploration vessel called the Nautilus, surveyed the
massive Eratosthenes Seamount (an underwater mountain), which covers an area more than 120km long by 80km wide and stands
2,000m high. The expedition yielded evidence that this area may once have been
an island above sea level, in addition to resulting in the discovery of three shipwrecks
— two dating to the Ottoman Empire and one to the Hellenistic period;
archaeologists have not yet examined found items such as a compass and one of
the ship’s anchor.
video from the Nautilus team features highlights from the trip and the 3D
mapping that came out of it.
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