Nippon Foundation/GEBCO Training Program


The General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO) is an international non-profit organization that relies largely on the voluntary contributions of an international team of geoscientists and hydrographers from many countries. GEBCO produces charts and digital grids of the world ocean by collating, interpreting and contouring data, utilizing soundings and multibeam bathymetry with the aid of directional fabrics revealed by satellite gravity. GEBCO also evaluates and authorizes undersea feature names for use on its products, which are published in a Gazetteer. In recent years, GEBCO recognized the need to revitalize its human resources, and one response has been to establish an international training program in deep-ocean bathymetry.

In partnership with Nippon Foundation, GEBCO contracted the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping / Joint Hydrographic Center of the University of New Hampshire, to develop and offer the Postgraduate Certificate in Ocean Bathymetry training program. The Nippon Foundation of Japan is an independent, non-profit, grant-making organization founded in 1962. It was established by legislation that set aside a percent of the revenue from Japanese motorboat racing to be used for philanthropic purposes. The Nippon Foundation, together with partner organizations, funds community-led efforts aimed at realizing a more peaceful and prosperous global society.

The Nippon Foundation funding respects cross-border, transnational and regional undertakings that may fall outside the reach of the public sector or other donor agencies; and initiatives to tackle pressing issues and long-range or persistent problems that require prompt and systemized care.

The Nippon Foundation supports projects that fall under one of the following major categories:

  • Domestic Welfare Programs,
  • Maritime Affairs, and
  • International Cooperative Support

The Nippon Foundation/GEBCO Postgraduate Certificate in Ocean Bathymetry training program falls under the category of Nippon Foundation Maritime Scholarships & Fellowships program. This funding allows young scientists from around the world, although primarily from developing countries, to be brought together to become experts in deep-ocean mapping through this training.

The distribution of GEBCO scholars to date is shown on the map below with previous years (1-18) in orange and Year 19 in blue.

World map showing countries that were represented by GEBCO scholars in the past in orange, and countries in blue showing countries represented by current GEBCO scholars.


The celebration of GEBCO’s Centenary in 2003 was bitter-sweet since it was marked by the retirement of several experienced, dedicated and very productive members at a time when it was becoming increasingly difficult to find younger scientists and hydrographers whose employers and careers will allow them to spend substantial periods of time working on bathymetry projects. GEBCO does not have the resources to pay people to work for it and, unfortunately, research-funding agencies generally no longer consider creating bathymetric charts, in spite of the widely acknowledged usefulness to society of such charts, to be ‘cutting edge’ research. GEBCO therefore faced a very serious, and even threatening, core problem, which was that there was a growing lack of personnel with a deep knowledge of marine earth sciences and extensive skills in IT, to take projects forward. Either GEBCO had to find a means to bolster its human resources or else face falling behind in assimilating new data and updating its products, which would have been to the detriment of the world-wide community that its serves.

Since no suitable teaching program was known to exist anywhere in the world, the ad hoc Project Management Group began by designing the learning objectives for training course that would help produce the next generation of bathymetrists. They then established performance criteria against which potential University teaching organizations could be evaluated. Based on these two documents, a search for a suitable university teaching organization which could run the course in ocean bathymetry was undertaken. GEBCO set up a neutral Evaluation Group consisting of six members, three from the GEBCO community and three independent advisors to evaluate the received proposals. The Evaluation Group unanimously chooses the Centre for Coastal and Ocean Mapping/Joint Hydrographic Center at the University of New Hampshire (UNH).

In 2003, GEBCO proposed to Nippon Foundation, as a solution to the shortfall in the numbers of skilled people who can participate in GEBCO’s mapping activities, the training of a new generation of younger scientists and hydrographers, mostly from less developed countries, in a Postgraduate Certificate in Ocean Bathymetry (PCOB). The proposal was accepted by the Nippon Foundation and the PCOB course was funded.

A GEBCO working group established the topics in which a modern bathymetrist should be skilled: Not surprisingly, these share much in common with the fundamental subjects necessary for all types of hydrography. (See the publications of the FIG/IHO/ICA International Advisory Board on Standards of Competence for Hydrographic Surveyors and Nautical Cartographers, for example.) It must be stressed that these are graduate level courses with a particular emphasis on the different demands of working in deep water, and the need to apply geomorphologic knowledge to the interpretation of sparse datasets of the sea floor. The Postgraduate Certificate in Ocean Mapping training program will be supervised and reviewed externally on an annual basis by representatives of GEBCO steering committee and the Nippon Foundation.

GEBCO and the Nippon Foundation jointly select six students each year out of many applicants on the basis of previous education, language competency, likelihood of successful completion, support/endorsement of home organization, likelihood of working in ocean mapping upon completion, possibility of participating in a Nippon Foundation work package or fellowship upon completion and geographic distribution of home state to offer maximum cross-fertilization among the class.

General References

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Canadian Institute of Geomatics (1999). "Geomatics technology roadmap." The Hydrographic Journal 93: 13-23.

Carron, M. J., P. R. Vogt, et al. (2001). "A Proposed International Long-Term Project to Systematically Map the World's Ocean Floors From Beach to Trench: GOMaP (Global Ocean Mapping Program)." International Hydrographic Rev 2(3 (New Series)): 49-55.

Committee on Exploration of the Seas (2003). Exploration of the seas: voyage into the unknown. Washington, DC, The National Academies Press.

Harper, B. and G. Sharman (2003). Leadline to multibeam, sextant to GPS & crow quill to computer: Bathymetric data collection, compilation, archiving, and distribution in the past century. Charting the secret world of the ocean floor: the GEBCO project 1903-2003, Monaco, IHO and IOC.

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Monahan, D. and D. E. Wells (1999). Achievable uncertainties in the depiction of the 2500m contour and their possible impact on continental shelf delimitation. Proceedings, International conference on Technical Aspects Of Maritime Boundary Delineation and Delimitation. International Hydrographic Organization, International Association of Geodesy, Advisory Board on Technical Aspects of Law of the Sea (ABLOS), Monaco.

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SCOR Working Group 107 (1996). Improved Global Bathymetry .Report of lst WG 107 Meeting. Southampton.

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United Nations Economic and Social Council (1978). Report of the Group of Experts on Hydrographic Surveying and Nautical Charting. UN Publication E/CONF.71/L.1.

Vogt, P. (2000). "Meeting Report (GoMap)." EOS, American Geophysical Union 81: 498.