First high-resolution map of the Great Barrier Reef released

By on 31 January, 2018

Image by Lock The Gate Alliance via Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

One and a half million square kilometres of bathymetric seafloor data have been released to the public by Geoscience Australia under partnership with James Cook University and the Australian Hydrographic Service.

The project carried out high-resolution bathymetric scans, which were combined with existing datasets held by the government to create the most comprehensive, detailed models produced to date.

The release comes as the federal government announced a $60 million investment in protective measures for the Great Barrier Reef, which include increasing the number of culling vessels for crown-of-thorns starfish from three to eight, measures to shield the Reef from polluted water, and investment in Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the CSIRO to “develop new ways for the reef to adapt and recover”.

Bathymetric images of hook line reefs, released by Geoscience Australia and James Cook University.

Dr Robin Beaman, research leader for the James Cook University team on the coastline mapping project, said that this initial release of the Great Barrier Reef data products would be the first of many.

“The Great Barrier Reef data is the first in a series of ‘30-metre’ datasets that will be released as part of this project. This represents the highest resolution depth model of the Great Barrier Reef to date,” he said.

“We’re using cutting-edge scientific techniques to combine historical and newly-acquired bathymetry data of the entire northern coastline of Australia,” he said.

“Our partners at Geoscience Australia will be releasing open source data of large parts of the coastline as it becomes available. The depth models we’ve built will enhance our understanding of the terrain of the seafloor in shallow waters off the coast of northern Australia.”

Moore-Sudbury reefs. Bathymetric images provided by Geoscience Australia and James Cook University.

Chief of Geoscience Australia’s Environmental Geoscience Division, Dr Stuart Minchin, said he was pleased that his team was able to support a project with such broad potential to support further research.

“The dataset we’ve released today maps the entire Great Barrier Reef with data that is around eight times higher resolution than what was available previously. This is a vast improvement and it creates huge opportunities for the scientific and policy community, most importantly for the environmental management of the reef,” Dr Minchin said.

“Bathymetry data is also an important input for oceanographic modelling which can be used to improve our knowledge of climate change impacts, marine biodiversity and species distribution. It will also support modelling of tides and ocean currents.”

The series of datasets produced through the project will provide a detailed view of the marine geography of Australia’s northern coastline, providing greater certainty on the location and extent of the country’s maritime boundaries. Additionally, the datasets will support safety of life at sea, law enforcement and government operations.

The data from this first release is available here in a range of formats.


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