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Which Countries are Mapping the Ocean Floor?

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Which countries are mapping the ocean floor?

Which Countries are Mapping the Ocean Floor?

Our vast and complex planet is becoming less mysterious with each passing day.

Consider the following:

  • Thousands of satellites are now observing every facet of our planet
  • Around three-quarters of Earth’s land surface is now influenced by human activity
  • Aircraft-based LIDAR mapping is creating new models of the physical world in staggering detail

But, despite all of these impressive advances, our collective knowledge of the ocean floor still has some surprising blind spots.

Today’s unique map from cartographer Andrew Douglas-Clifford (aka The Map Kiwi) focuses on ocean territory instead of land, highlighting the vast areas of the ocean floor that remain unmapped. Which countries are exploring their offshore territory, and how much of the ocean floor still remains a mystery to us? Let’s dive in.

What Do We Know Right Now?

Today, we have a surprisingly incomplete picture of what lies beneath the waves. In fact, if you were to fly from Los Angeles to Sydney, the bulk of your journey would take place over territory that is mapped in only the broadest sense.

Most of what we know about the ocean floor’s topography was pieced together from gravity data gathered by satellites. While useful as a starting point, the resulting spatial resolution is about two square miles (5km). By comparison, topographic maps of Mars and Venus have a resolution that’s 50x more detailed.

As the map above clearly illustrates, only a few large pieces of the ocean have been mapped—and not surprisingly, many of these higher resolution portions lie along the world’s shipping lanes.

Another way to see this clear difference in resolution is through Google Maps:

As you can see above, these shipping lanes running through the Pacific Ocean have been mapped at a higher resolution that the surrounding ocean floor.

The Countries Mapping the Ocean Floor

The closer an area is to a population center, the higher the likelihood it has been mapped. That said, many countries still have a long way to go before they have a clear picture of their land beneath the waves.

Here is a snapshot of how far along countries are in their subsea mapping efforts:

Countries/territoriesSize of Exclusive Economic Zone* (EEZ)Percentage of EEZ mapped
Japan1,729,501 mi² (4,479,388 km²)97.7%
United Kingdom2,627,651 mi² (6,805,586 km²)90.6%
Norway920,922 mi² (2,385,178 km²)81.9%
New Zealand1,576,742 mi² (4,083,744 km²)74.0%
United States4,382,645 mi² (11,351,000 km²)69.9%
Australia3,283,933 mi² (8,505,348 km²)64.9%
Iceland291,121 mi² (754,000 km²)49.9%
South Africa592,874 mi² (1,535,538 km²)39.5%
Canada2,161,815 mi² (5,599,077 km²)38.8%
Samoa49,401 mi² (127,950 km²)34.6%
South Korea183,579 mi² (475,469 km²)28.3%
Taiwan32,135 mi² (83,231 km²)26.3%
Argentina447,516 mi² (1,159,063 km²)22.6%
Cook Islands756,770 mi² (1,960,027 km²)29.0%
Phillippines614,203 mi² (1,590,780 km²)16.7%
China338,618 mi² (877,019 km²)11.4%
Madagascar473,075 mi² (1,225,259 km²)5.5%
Bangladesh45,873 mi² (118,813 km²)3.3%
Thailand115,597 mi² (299,397 km²)1.5%

*An exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is the sea zone stretching 200 nautical miles (nmi) from the coast of a state.

Japan and the UK, which have the 5th and 8th largest EEZs respectively, are the clear leaders in mapping their ocean territory.

Piecing Together the Puzzle

Sometimes tragedy can have a silver lining. By the time the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 concluded in 2014, scientists had gained access to more than 100,000 square miles of newly mapped sections of the Indian Ocean.

Of course, it will take a more systematic approach and sustained effort to truly map the world’s ocean floors. Thankfully, a project called Seabed 2030 has the ambitious goal of mapping the entire ocean floor by 2030. The organization is collaborating with existing mapping initiatives in various regions to compile bathymetric information (undersea map data).

It’s been said without hyperbole that we know more about the surface of Mars than we do about our own planet’s seabed, but thanks to the efforts of Seabed 2030 and other initiatives around the world, puzzle pieces are finally falling into place.

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Energy

Visualizing China’s Energy Transition in 5 Charts

This infographic takes a look at what China’s energy transition plans are to make its energy mix carbon neutral by 2060.

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China Energy Mix

Visualizing China’s Energy Transition in 5 Charts

In September 2020, China’s President Xi Jinping announced the steps his nation would take to reach carbon neutrality by 2060 via videolink before the United Nations Assembly in New York.

This infographic takes a look at what this ambitious plan for China’s energy would look like and what efforts are underway towards this goal.

China’s Ambitious Plan

A carbon-neutral China requires changing the entire economy over the next 40 years, a change the IEA compares to the ambition of the reforms that industrialized the country’s economy in the first place.

China is the world’s largest consumer of electricity, well ahead of the second place consumer, the United States. Currently, 80% of China’s energy comes from fossil fuels, but this plan envisions only 14% coming from coal, oil, and natural gas in 2060.

Energy Source20252060% Change
Coal52%3%-94%
Oil18%8%-56%
Natural Gas10%3%-70%
Wind4%24%+500%
Nuclear3%19%+533%
Biomass2%5%+150%
Solar3%23%+667%
Hydro8%15%+88%

Source: Tsinghua University Institute of Energy, Environment and Economy; U.S. EIA

According to the Carbon Brief, China’s 14th five-year plan appears to enshrine Xi’s goal. This plan outlines a general and non specific list of projects for a new energy system. It includes the construction of eight large-scale clean energy centers, coastal nuclear power, electricity transmission routes, power system flexibility, oil-and-gas transportation, and storage capacity.

Progress Towards Renewables?

While the goal seems far off in the future, China is on a trajectory towards reducing the carbon emissions of its electricity grid with declining coal usage, increased nuclear, and increased solar power capacity.

According to ChinaPower, coal fueled the rise of China with the country using 144 million tonnes of oil equivalent “Mtoe” in 1965, peaking at 1,969 Mtoe in 2013. However, its share as part of the country’s total energy mix has been declining since the 1990s from ~77% to just under ~60%.

Another trend in China’s energy transition will be the greater consumption of energy as electricity. As China urbanized, its cities expanded creating greater demand for electricity in homes, businesses, and everyday life. This trend is set to continue and approach 40% of total energy consumed by 2030 up from ~5% in 1990.

Under the new plan, by 2060, China is set to have 42% of its energy coming from solar and nuclear while in 2025 it is only expected to be 6%. China has been adding nuclear and solar capacity and expects to add the equivalent of 20 new reactors by 2025 and enough solar power for 33 million homes (110GW).

Changing the energy mix away from fossil fuels, while ushering in a new economic model is no small task.

Up to the Task?

China is the world’s factory and has relatively young industrial infrastructure with fleets of coal plants, steel mills, and cement factories with plenty of life left.

However, China also is the biggest investor in low-carbon energy sources, has access to massive technological talent, and holds a strong central government to guide the transition.

The direction China takes will have the greatest impact on the health of the planet and provide guidance for other countries looking to change their energy mixes, for better or for worse.

The world is watching…even if it’s by videolink.

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Energy

Visualizing 50+ Years of the G20’s Energy Mix

Watch how the energy mix of G20 countries has evolved over the last 50+ years.

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G20 Energy Mix share

Visualizing 50+ Years of the G20’s Energy Mix (1965–2019)

Over the last 50 years, the energy mix of G20 countries has changed drastically in some ways.

With many countries and regions pledging to move away from fossil fuels and towards cleaner sources of energy, the overall energy mix is becoming more diversified. But shutting down plants and replacing them with new sources takes time, and most countries are still incredibly reliant on fossil fuels.

This video from James Eagle uses data from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy to examine how the energy mix of G20 members has changed from 1965 to 2019.

G20’s Energy History: Fossil Fuel Dependence (1965–1999)

At first, there was oil and coal.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, energy consumption in the G20 countries relied almost entirely on these two fossil fuels. They were the cheapest and most efficient sources of energy for most, though some countries also used a lot of natural gas, like the United States, Mexico, and Russia.

Country (Energy Mix - 1965)OilCoalOther
🇦🇷 Argentina83%3%14%
🇦🇺 Australia45%50%5%
🇧🇷 Brazil66%8%26%
🇨🇦 Canada47%13%40%
🇨🇳 China8%87%5%
🇪🇺 EU47%45%8%
🇫🇷 France49%37%14%
🇩🇪 Germany34%63%3%
🇮🇳 India24%67%9%
🇮🇩 Indonesia86%2%12%
🇮🇹 Italy66%11%23%
🇯🇵 Japan56%31%13%
🇲🇽 Mexico61%3%36%
🇷🇺 Russia29%50%21%
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia98%0%2%
🇿🇦 South Africa19%81%0%
🇰🇷 South Korea20%77%3%
🇹🇷 Turkey46%47%7%
🇬🇧 UK38%59%3%
🇺🇸 U.S.45%22%33%

But the use of oil for energy started to decrease, beginning most notably in the 1980s. Rocketing oil prices forced many utilities to turn to coal and natural gas (which were becoming cheaper), while others in countries like France, Japan, and the U.S. embraced the rise of nuclear power.

This is most notable in countries with high historic oil consumption, like Argentina and Indonesia. In 1965, these three countries relied on oil for more than 83% of energy, but by 1999, oil made up just 55% of Indonesia’s energy mix and 36% of Argentina’s.

Even Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, began to utilize oil less. By 1999, oil was used for 65% of energy in the country, down from a 1965 high of 97%.

G20’s Energy Mix: Gas and Renewables Climb (2000–2019)

The conversation around energy changed in the 21st century. Before, countries were focused primarily on efficiency and cost, but very quickly, they had to start contending with emissions.

Climate change was already on everyone’s radar. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed in 1992, and the resulting Kyoto Protocol aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions was signed in 1997.

But when the Kyoto Protocol went into effect in 2005, countries had very different options available to them. Some started to lean more heavily on hydroelectricity, though countries that already utilized them like Canada and Brazil had to look elsewhere. Others turned to nuclear power, but the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan turned many away.

This is the period of time that renewables started to pick up steam, primarily in the form of wind power at first. By 2019, the G20 members that relied on renewables the most were Brazil (16%), Germany (16%), and the UK (14%).

Country (Energy Mix - 2019)Natural GasNuclearHydroelectricRenewablesOther
🇦🇷 Argentina49%2%10%4%35%
🇦🇺 Australia30%0%2%7%61%
🇧🇷 Brazil10%1%29%16%44%
🇨🇦 Canada31%6%24%4%35%
🇨🇳 China8%2%8%5%77%
🇪🇺 EU22%11%4%10%53%
🇫🇷 France16%37%5%6%36%
🇩🇪 Germany24%5%1%16%54%
🇮🇳 India6%1%4%4%85%
🇮🇩 Indonesia18%0%2%4%76%
🇮🇹 Italy40%0%6%10%44%
🇯🇵 Japan21%3%4%6%66%
🇲🇽 Mexico42%1%3%5%49%
🇷🇺 Russia54%6%6%0%34%
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia37%0%0%0%63%
🇿🇦 South Africa3%2%0%2%93%
🇰🇷 South Korea16%11%0%2%71%
🇹🇷 Turkey24%0%12%6%58%
🇬🇧 UK36%6%1%14%43%
🇺🇸 U.S.32%8%3%6%51%

However, the need to reduce emissions quickly made many countries make a simpler switch: cut back on oil and coal and utilize more natural gas. Bituminous coal, one of the most commonly used in steam-electric power stations, emits 76% more CO₂ than natural gas. Diesel fuel and heating oil used in oil power plants emit 38% more CO₂ than natural gas.

As countries begin to push more strongly towards a carbon-neutral future, the energy mix of the 2020s and onward will continue to change.

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