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How is bathymetric data used?

Accurate bathymetry is essential for navigation and ocean science.

A bathymetric image of Lake Huron

A bathymetric image of Lake Huron. In the same way that topographic maps represent the three-dimensional features (or relief) of overland terrain, bathymetric maps illustrate the land that lies underwater.

Bathymetric data, which includes information about the depths and shapes of underwater terrain, has a range of uses:

  • Nautical charts — These charts, based on bathymetric data, guide mariners the same way road maps guide drivers. Having accurate information about the depth of the water and potential underwater hazards is essential for safe maritime transportation, especially for large ships.
  • Studying changing coastline features — Scientists use bathymetric data to study the effects of climate change and to monitor beach erosion, sea level rise, and subsidence (land sinking).
  • Hydrodynamic models — Bathymetric data is used to create models that can calculate currents, tides, water temperature, and salinity in an area. These models can also be used to predict tides and currents, as well as hazards like coastal flooding and rip tides.
  • Studying marine life — Scientists use bathymetric data to study the habitats of benthic (bottom-dwelling) organisms. Bathymetric maps can help scientists determine where fish and other marine life feed, live, and breed. Bathymetric data is also used to create maps of coral habitats to assist in conservation and monitoring.