Mapping the Oceans

Early maps can be traced back to the Iron Age on cave walls in Babylon, Greece and Asia. It was explorer and cartographer Juan de la Cosa however who created the very first world map which incorporated territories such as the Americas, Africa and Eurasia, and the oceans that lay between. De la Cosa went on numerous voyages and sailed with Christopher Columbus in the late 15th and early 16th centuries recording discoveries of the New World.  

Chinese sailing charts drawn up in the early 15th century by explorer Zhen He, provide some detail of surrounding lands such as Africa, indeed 300 locations can be identified outside of China, however these place identifiers weren’t completely accurate. A twenty-four point compass system was used which provided a 2D representation of information on sailing distance, currents, tides and sea levels. This also included a number of bays, islands, ports and significant landmarks.

Sir Francis Beaufort (1774-1851) was an Irish hydrographer who, with the British Navy, made significant contribution to sea charting and the tracking of weather patterns for the purposes of sailing and mapping. He also spent his free time making significant observations to determine latitude and longitude. Beaufort was the creator of the Beaufort Wind Force Scale, an empirical measurement that relates wind speed to observed conditions at sea or on land. Determining wind force at sea is particularly useful for seafarers because it can gage the conditions of the sea. Knowing this, rough weather can be avoided or preparations can be made to endure such conditions. The scale depends on the effects of wind on waves, with respect to wave height, length, spray created, breaking crests, foam and so on. The Wind Force Scale can measure wind force within two to three knots on the lower scale and six to ten on the higher end.   Notably, Beaufort’s father was the first person to create and publish a new map of Ireland in 1792.

Today, sophisticated technology has enabled advanced mapping techniques especially in Irish waters. INFOMAR is a joint programme developed between the Geological Survey of Ireland and the Marine Institute and is the successor to the Irish National Seabed Survey (INSS). INFOMAR produce integrated mapping products covering the physical, chemical and biological features of the seabed. The majority of the Irish continental marine areas have been mapped by the INSS.

previousPrevious - 20th Century Sea Exploration
Next - Oceans as Roadwaysnext