People ask me all kinds of questions. These days most questions are about parish life, Scripture, church history, theology, and the topics one would expect to receive when one works in a parish. This week another question has been asked: “How is it possible for a modern submarine to hit an underseas mountain? Don’t they have sonar?”
Brad Lendon has a well-written and concise article which answers the questions far better than I would have. The shorter answer is that the whole purpose of submarine is stealth. Sonar is a loud-speaker announcement “Here I am” and so its not used for routine navigation. But that leads to the question of “don’t submarines have maps?” We have charts, but as Lendon wrote: “Basically, the surface of the moon is better charted than the bottom of the ocean is.”
Years of submarine operations, bottom mapping and other means have been applied in designated submarine operating areas, transit lanes, etc… but the mapping is not perfect. In the Lendon article, he writes: “Using a method called vertical gravity grading — taking satellite altimetry measurements of the Earth’s gravitational field — and overlaying those results with mapping of the bottom of the South China Sea, he [David Sandwell] was able to identify 27 places where the Connecticut could have hit a seamount that was not on US Navy charts.”These are places where the gravity predicts there is something shallower than 400 meters (1,312 feet), around the depth where a submarine might run into it.”
And given the geo-politics of these days, operations in the South China Sea will become more important. Perhaps vertical gravity mapping and other means will improve sea bottom charts.