Un biologo marino ha usato Google Maps per esplorare l’oceano

Esplorare l'oceano e le sue profondità utilizzando i dati satellitare di Google Maps: ecco il progetto del biologo marino Johnny Gaskell e del suo team


Veronica Nicosia Giornalista scientifico

Laureata in astrofisica, giornalista scientifico e content editor SEO, scrive di tecnologia per magazine online e carta stampata. Nel 2020 approda a Libero Tecnologia

Esplorare l’oceano con Google Maps: è questo il progetto del biologo marino Johnny Gaskell che, insieme a un team di ricercatori, sta analizzando alcuni luoghi ancora inesplorati della Grande Barriera Corallina. The primary goal: to find new blue holes, or large marine sinkholes that have remained hidden from the human eye until now.

The idea of Gaskell and his research group was born in 2017, after witnessing the destruction of large sections of the reef due to the devastating force of Cyclone Debbie, which, at the time, hit Queensland, in northeastern Australia. The area is densely populated with hundreds of species of corals that, rooted to the seabed, serve as protection for underwater wildlife, as well as giving scholars the ability to determine important aspects of the oceans through the layers of sedimentation that surround them. Like history books, these groups of organisms preserve information from the land, allowing for an in-depth reading of the past and providing details on how to act in time to protect new formations that regenerate from year to year.

Google Maps, so it helps to explore the ocean

To carry out the exploration, Gaskell used Google Maps' satellite view. Following the path taken by the cyclone, he then proceeded to identify areas that escaped its destructive passage. During the operation, the biologist identified some circular formations near the reef, a sign of the possible presence of blue holes.

The first area in question was identified south of the Whitsundays Islands, in the bioregion called Hard Line Reefs. This is an area of the Great Barrier Reef that is difficult to reach and extremely dangerous to navigate, but of extreme interest, so much so that the team decided to reach it, at least for a preliminary exploration phase.

Taking advantage of satellite visualization through their smartphones, the researchers navigated the still unknown waters, going as far as the points marked on the digital maps. It was enough to dive into the oceanic depths to make a wonderful discovery: a perfectly healthy coral formation, present in the "blue hole" probably for more than a hundred years.

A large amount of fauna inside, from corals of the species Seriatopora caliendrum and Acropora formosa, so-called deer horns, to giant tridacne, green turtles, giant carangidae and even sharks, especially in the cooler and more protected central section.

Google Maps, the eye of science

Marine sinkholes are particularly complex formations to uncover, so Google Maps proved to be a key aide to the work of the biologists involved in the project. Investigating them in person, without the support of satellite imagery, could have required months of research to recognize and analyze such structures even in limited areas of one of the world's largest ecosystems.

For the future, the Citizen of the Great barrier Reef and Great Reef Census projects have implemented a process of analyzing geotagged photographs to give everyone, students and scientists alike, the opportunity to understand underwater dynamics. In addition, Great Reef Census has chosen to pursue reconnaissance using the methodology pioneered by Gaskell in order to deepen the knowledge gained to date about the complex natural system.