Exploring Seafloor Topography

Sandra Swenson, Ed.M., Teachers College, Columbia University, ssc2001@columbia.edu

Published: April 2006. Last Updated: June 2011


Topography of the Atlantic sea floor. Inset shows a topographic profile at 36°N. Click the image for a larger view.

In this chapter, you will learn how scientists gather data about the depth of the ocean floor and how these data are displayed to indicate the shape of Earth's ocean basins. To begin, you will engage with the question "How do we know what the seafloor looks like?" from a historical perspective; then you will explore an illustrated timeline that describes ancient through modern methods used to learn about the seafloor.

You will download and use GeoMapApp, a freely-available software and data access tool to create visual representations of bathymetric data. In order to establish a concrete connection between the computer visualization and the data used to produce it, you will take a virtual cruise across the Atlantic Ocean. On the cruise, you will collect bathymetry data and produce a graph that represents the profile of the seafloor beneath your virtual boat. Then you may choose to take profile data along several latitude lines and compile them into a two-dimensional grid, or you can examine an example of a hand-drawn map to understand the process.

Armed with a clearer understanding of how the bathymetry data were obtained and how they indicate the shape of the seafloor, you will explore new parts of Earth, using GeoMapApp to create high-resolution profiles and contour maps. With enhanced skills in interpreting bathymetry data, you can create meaningful visualizations to investigate the three-quarters of our planet's surface that is under ocean waters.

This chapter is part of the Earth Exploration Toolbook. Each chapter provides teachers and/or students with direct practice for using scientific tools to analyze Earth science data. Students should begin on the Case Study page.

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