The Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI) used multibeam measurements to map 47,000 square kilometres of the sea floor just to the south of Iceland, RÚV reports. Never before has such a large area of the ocean floor within Iceland’s territorial waters been mapped using multibeam technology during a single expedition. It is hoped that by charting the sea floor within Iceland’s territorial waters, scientists will be better equipped to utilise, protect, and research marine resources both on and under the seabed.
Including the measurements that MFRI took in June, almost a third of the sea floor within Iceland’s territorial boundaries has now been mapped. Scientists on the Árni Friðriksson research vessel spent 25 days on this endeavour, which is part of a larger seabed-mapping project that began in 2017. The June expedition charted undersea mountains and volcanoes, explains the announcement on MFRI’s website, some of which were previously unknown to researchers. It also surveyed the site of the sunken German ‘treasure ship,’ the SS Minden, which was discovered in 2017 and rumoured to be carrying up to four tonnes of Nazi gold.
“The Icelandic government permitted foreign companies to search for valuables on the SS Minden during the summer of 2018, but without success,” reads the MFRI announcement. During the June surveying expedition, it confirms, “…wreckage of the SS Minden appeared as arch-shaped masses for a 120-metre [394ft] stretch at a depth of 2,275 metres [7,464 feet].”
Multibeam measurements are depth measurements, explains Guðrún Helgadóttir, a geologist with MFRI, but are different from typical depth, or bathymetric, measurements in that beams are projected from both sides of the research vessel, which allows for a much wider area to be measured and mapped at once. Using this method, an area of up to 3.5 kilometres [2.17 miles] can be measured on both sides of the ship.
When the seabed-charting project began in 2017, about 12.3% of the seabed around Iceland had been mapped and researchers aimed to complete the mapping of areas below 100 metres deep with 13 years. This would have required an average of 60 days spent charting a year. Even with the new multibeam measurements that significantly speed up the process, researchers now realise that the projected time must be extended if it is going to be completed as planned.