Bathymetry: it allows us to understand why the North Shore of Oahu has so many great surf breaks | Illustration: University of Hawaii

The General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO) launched the Undersea Feature Names Gazetteer, an online index/dictionary for the bathymetric world.

Everyone is invited to propose names for new features. After being submitted to GEBCO, the names are analyzed, compared, and selected in an annual meeting.

A new name should have two terms: a specific expression/word and a generic expression/word. The specific term should relate to nearby onshore or offshore features, a maritime researcher or explore, or a historic ship.

The generic term should express the form of the feature. Is it a trench, a seamount, an escarpment, a ridge? For example, the Nazaré Canyon, located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Nazaré, in Portugal, is a name proposed by Jean-René Vanney, from the University of Paris, in 1999.

The specific term "Nazaré" is from the nearby coastal town of Nazaré, and the and the generic term "Canyon" describes the local morphological feature.

Nazaré Canyon: bathymetry explains the formation of big waves | Illustration: MaxSea

Recently, the GEBCO Gazetteer has been making an effort to harmonize the names, so that they can all be read and understood by the scientific community, and the general public. Because a basin is not a bank, and a seamount is not a ridge.

GEBCO aims to provide the most authoritative publicly-available bathymetry of the world's oceans. Today, seafloor mapping is growing fast thanks to the proliferation of multi-beam sonar technology, remotely operated vehicles (ROV), autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV).

The goal is to map most of the world's ocean floor by 2030. GEBCO wants mariners involved in the ambitious plan. All they need to use is a simple software that collects data and shares it with the organization.

GEBCO has already released a printed version of the bathymetric map of the world on a scale of 1:35 million, and a general bathymetric chart of the oceans in .pdf format.