Naming undersea features using the same system as the stars discussed during SCUFN meeting

Published: 28/11/2023 - 10:24

With this year seeing a new record number of proposals to name undersea features, members of the GEBCO Sub Committee on Undersea Feature Names (SCUFN) discussed ways to deal with increasingly large numbers of proposals but also how to safeguard data on features in disputed areas.

Thanks to technologies like satellite-derived bathymetry, autonomous vehicles but also automated detection of features and the increased robustness of detection algorithms, this year saw a new record of 450 naming proposals submitted – a number which is expected to keep on rising. However, despite the implementation within SCUFN of systems to assess more effectively the naming proposals, the sheer volume received each year and the lengthy discussions on proposals in disputed areas or on dual names for the same feature result in hundreds of features being omitted from the GEBCO Gazetteer. This means information about their size, shape, height or location could be lost for all.

This year saw a record number of proposals to name undersea features.

To avoid losing valuable information on seabed topography, members have agreed to establish a new SCUFN Naming 2030 SubGroup which aims to develop a numerical data model based on a Geographic Feature Unique Identifier. Under this system, undersea features would be identified by a single, universally recognized alphanumerical code. While maintaining its authoritative role in the international recognition of naming features, this innovative approach will also accommodate multilingual attributes for generic terms (seamount, hill, ridge etc…) and variants for specific terms where appropriate. For example indigenous names may coexist with those of renowned XVIIIth century explorers. The SubGroup will examine solutions adopted by the International Astronomical Union Working Group on Star Names to assess the adaptability of their system for undersea features.

SCUFN Member Mike Coffin summarised the size of the potential issue when he asked:

Should SCUFN get prepared to name the millions of abyssal hills that cover most of the oceanic crust in the future?

SCUFN Member Mike Coffin 

  SCUFN members agreed to limit number of naming proposals.

In order to avoid deferring decisions at every meeting due to lack of time, the twelve members unanimously agreed to limit the number of naming proposals per organization or country to a maximum of 25 per year, with the total to be reviewed in a year capped at 250.

Following a proposal from coastal states present as Observers during this meeting held 6-10 November in Wollongong, Australia, SCUFN members also voted “to freeze” the naming of undersea features in the South China Sea. This action was taken in accordance with the SCUFN Rules of Procedure, which exclude naming proposals that are politically sensitive.

63% of the proposals received this year were located in the South China Sea. The next meeting is expected to feature a joint proposal from all interested parties, aimed at resolving the naming issues in this maritime area.

This meeting was chaired by Dr Yasuhiko Ohara from the Japan Hydrographic and Oceanographic Department (JHOD, Japan), who was re-elected to the position of chair.  First Admiral Dr Najhan MD Said was elected for the position of Vice-Chair at the end of the meeting. Hosted by the Australian Hydrographic Office, 45 participants attended, consisting of the 12 SCUFN members, plus representatives of nine Member States (Australia, Canada, China, Greece, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, the Republic of Korea and Viet Nam) and subject matter experts (Marine Regions, NOAA (USA), ACUF (USA), KHOA and KOSBI  (ROK), Geoscience Australia and BGS).  Assistant Director Yves Guillam acting as SCUFN Secretary represented the IHO Secretariat.

Opening Address of 36th Meeting of the IHO-IOC GEBCO Sub-Committee on Undersea Feature Names (SCUFN)

The next meeting will be hosted by the Republic of Korea (KIGAM, KHOA) in Jeju from 24 to 28 June 2024.

The full IHO Secretariat bulletin report presenting the main outcomes of the meeting can be accessed here: 36th Meeting of the IHO-IOC GEBCO Sub-Committee on Undersea Feature Names (SCUFN).

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Last modified: 28/11/2023 - 12:20