IX. International Hydrographic Organization’s Crowdsourced Bathymetry Database (CSB)

Interaction type Public → Government → Public
Trigger Event
Domain Hydrography, ocean mapping, navigation, Marine Spatial Planning, physical oceanography
Organisation(s) International Hydrographic Organization (IHO)
Actors IHO, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Ocean Scientists, Electronic Navigation software manufacturers (i.e. Rose Point Navigation Systems)
Data sets in use The IHO’s Data Centre for Digital Bathymetry Crowdsourced Bathymetry Database
Process Volunteers contribute anonymous GPS position and soundings data to a new international database managed by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI)
Feedback A more informed and up-to-date bathymetric database
Goal Cover with bathymetric data as many sea areas as possible
Side effects
Contact Point LT Anthony Klemm, NOAA; anthony dot r dot klemm [at] noaa dotgov


According to IHO, less than fifteen percent of the world’s ocean depths have been measured; the rest of the data used to compile seafloor maps are estimated depths. These estimated depths are largely derived from satellite gravity measurements, which can miss significant features and provide only coarse-resolution depictions of the largest seamounts, ridges and canyons. Progress in mapping coastal waters is only marginally better. IHO publication C-55, Status of Surveying and Charting Worldwide, indicates that about fifty percent of the world’s coastal waters shallower than 200 metres remain unsurveyed.

While the hydrographic and scientific community lament this lack of data, the world’s interest in seas, oceans and waterways continues to increase. The concept of a blue economy is firmly established, along with an ever-growing public awareness of mankind’s dependence upon, and vulnerability to, the sea. Several high-level global initiatives are now in place that seek to address ocean issues, including the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. In this context, the shortfall in bathymetric data is even more significant, as it is now recognised that knowledge of the depth and shape of the seafloor underpins the safe, sustainable, and cost-effective execution of almost every human activity on, or beneath, the sea

In 2014, the IHO, at its Fifth Extraordinary International Hydrographic Conference (EIHC-5), determined to improve this situation by progressing actions to improve the collection, quality and availability of hydrographic data worldwide. One of these actions, Proposal 4, concerned crowdsourced bathymetry. Crowdsourced bathymetry (CSB) is the collection of depth measurements from vessels, using standard navigation instruments, while engaged in routine maritime operations.  The EIHC-5 decided to task the Inter-Regional Coordination Committee (IRCC) to establish a working group to prepare a new IHO publication on policy for crowdsourced bathymetry. The Crowd-Sourced Bathymetry Working Group (CSBWG), will examine how best to incorporate, manage and use bathymetric data acquired by other than conventional means and develop principles and guidelines to enable the appropriate collection and use of crowd-sourced bathymetry for the benefit of all stakeholders interested in knowing the shape and nature of the seafloor and its depths.

Recognizing the relevance of bathymetry to international maritime policy and the blue economy, and noting that crowdsourced bathymetry may be useful for many potential users of the world’s seas, oceans and waterways, the IHO has developed a guidance document to state its policy towards, and provide best practices for collecting, crowdsourced bathymetry dealing with subjects such as Data Contribution, Data Collection, Data and Metadata, Uncertainty and Legal Considerations.

The data will be hosted by IHO’s Data Centre for Digital Bathymetry (DCDB) which was established in 1988 to steward the worldwide collection of open bathymetric data. The Centre archives and shares, freely and without restrictions, depth data contributed by mariners and others from across the world. The DCDB is hosted by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) in Boulder, Colorado. All data hosted by the DCDB is accessible online via interactive web map services. The DCDB currently accepts crowdsourced bathymetry (CSB) contributions through a network of Trusted Nodes, which are organizations or individuals that serve as data liaisons between mariners (data collectors) and the DCDB. Trusted Nodes may assist the mariner by supplying data logging equipment, providing technical support to vessels, downloading data from data loggers, and providing the information to the DCDB. The DCDB works with each Trusted Node to standardize metadata and data formats and define data delivery requirements. This model standardizes data contributions and minimizes the requirements and effort for mariners. In the future, the DCDB plans to support other models, including individual mariner contributions.

Rose Point Navigation Systems worked with system developers at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and with hydrographic experts at Coast Survey and others who are collaborating on an international effort to maintain crowdsourced bathymetry. In a beta test released on May 13, 2016, Rose Point has added a new feature to their software that gives users an option to send anonymous GPS position and soundings data to a new international database managed by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). After getting permission from users, Rose Point systems will generate data log files of positions, depths, and time, and automatically transmit the files to the data center, where Coast Survey can pull the data to compare it to nautical charts.

While CSB data may not meet accuracy requirements for charting areas of critical under-keel clearance, it holds limitless potential for myriad other uses. If vessels collect and donate depth information while on passage, the data can be used to identify uncharted features, to assist in verifying charted information, and to help confirm that existing charts are appropriate for the latest traffic patterns. Crowdsourced bathymetry can also provide vital information to support national and regional development activities, and scientific studies in areas where little or no other data exists. Providing CSB to the database allows hydrographic organizations to access valuable reconnaissance data that can be used to rapidly assess the adequacy of nautical charts, which can lead to more targeted and faster nautical chart updates.

For the success of the project a number of factors need to be considered. First, as in all crowdsourced projects, the recruitment of volunteers is a challenging task. Even more so is keeping the engagement and maintaining public interest.


Main lessons:

  • The adoption, in a higher level, of a broader participatory strategy can considerably facilitate the realization of crowdsourced projects.
  • Today, the technological developments allow massive in-situ data gathering
  • Once more it is shown that in-situ data gathering and data update in global scale cannot be achieved efficiently without citizen participation
  • Crowdsourcing projects prove a valuable tool even in them more demanding cases in terms of accuracy and overall quality of the datasets produced.



IHO, Guidance on Crowdsourced Bathymetry. Available at: https://www.iho.int/mtg_docs/com_wg/CSBWG/CSBWG_Misc/CSB-Guidance_Document-v3.11.pdf