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09 May 2022
For centuries, humankind has been fascinated by the sea, exploring it and venturing towards the blue horizon in search of new land and adventures.
Today, we know that the ocean makes up about 71% of the Earth’s surface, and it is the biggest ecosystem of the planet, holding 99% of all habitable space in the world. As much as we try to picture its vastness, however, it remains almost incomprehensible.
The five main ocean basins, the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Arctic and Southern Oceans contain 94% of the world’s wildlife and 97% of all the water on our blue planet.
Despite the central role it obviously plays in our planet’s balance, and the appeal the ocean has held to men since the beginning of time, we actually do not know much about its mysteries. In fact, most of the waters remain unexplored, uncharted and unseen by our eyes.
It might be shocking to find out, but only 5% of the ocean has been explored and charted by humans. The rest, especially its depths, are still unknown.
In this article, we will learn more about the science of oceanography and the history of ocean exploration throughout the centuries. We will also look at why it is complicated to explore the ocean, and why, at the same time, it is so important to understand its secret for the future of all life on Earth.
Let’s get started then!
What is Oceanography?
Also known as oceanology, oceanography is the study of the oceans. This discipline applies all branches of science (chemistry, geology, meteorology, biology, etc.) to the discovery of the ocean and its characteristics. Oceanography focuses on all the ocean’s features, including its ancient history, current condition, and future.
Oceanographers explore a range of subjects as wide as the ocean itself, and the information and lessons we learn from them are of the utmost importance in today’s world.
Why is Oceanography important?
If we take into consideration the size of the ocean, there seems to be no end to what can and will be uncovered in the science of oceanography. Furthermore, the ocean affects all forms of life on the planet, and knowing more about it can only help us in developing new technologies to safeguard its ecosystem and biodiversity, building a more sustainable future for everyone.
What are the main branches of Oceanography?
- Biological Oceanography
This branch focuses on the study of the sea’s plants and animals within the marine environment. This can include research on fishing and its impact on the ocean’s health, climate change, migration etc.
- Geological Oceanography
Geological oceanographers focus on the formations that make up the sea floor and how they change over time. This kind of research is essential for understanding seismic activity that could lead to more accurate tsunami and earthquake predictions.
- Physical Oceanography
This branch focuses on the relationship between the atmosphere, the seafloor and the coastline. It includes research on climate change, ocean transportation and human activities, pollution, etc.
- Chemical Oceanography
Another essential aspect oceanographers study is the chemical composition of seawater and how it is affected by climate change and weather, human activities, pollution, transportation and many other factors.
A brief history of Oceans Exploration
Oceanography is probably one of the latest additions to the various fields of science, but its origins date back several tens of thousands of years, since the time people began to explore their coastlines in rafts and venture towards the open sea.
- 4000 BC – First Sailing Vessels
Some of the first sailing vessels were created in ancient Egypt, probably just for moving in the Mediterranean Sea, in proximity of the mouth of the Nile River.
- 1000 BC – Deep Diving Begins
The Greek poet Homer described divers who could get as deep as 30 meters to collect sponges. The techniques they used involved holding onto a heavy rock and pouring oil into their ear canals to compensate the pressure.
- 600 BC – First Sea Routes
The ancient Phoenicians were known to be great sailors, and developed sea routes around the Mediterranean as well as into the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. They are thought to have gone all the way to Africa and England.
- 414 BC – Diving Used in Warfare
Thucydides, a Greek historian, wrote about how diving was used in warfare during the siege of Syracuse.
Oceanography in the Middle Ages and beyond
- 900 – Viking Expeditions Begin
Vikings were skilled seamen and they were among the first explorers to use the North Star to maintain course during sailing. They explored and colonized Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland.
- 1405 – Chinese Exploration
On this date, the Chinese fleet set out on seven voyages consisting of over 300 ships. These voyages were supposed to expand Chinese influence and to impress neighboring states.
- 1492 – Voyage of Christopher Columbus
This is the famous year in which the explorer Christopher Columbus set out on his historic voyage across the Atlantic, with the aim of circumnavigating Earth and reaching China and India. Instead, as we all know, he discovered North and South America.
- September 20, 1519 – First Circumnavigation of the World
Ferdinand Magellan and his crew departed from Portugal to begin a daring voyage that will become the first circumnavigation of the world.
- 1578 – First Plans for a Submarine
William Bourne, a British mathematician, drew up the first known plans for an underwater boat. Probably, this craft was never built.
More Recent Oceanography
- 1620 – First Submarine
Cornelis Drebbel, a Dutch physician, built history’s first submarine. The boat was constructed with wood, reinforced with iron plates and covered with leather. Inside, it was propelled by 12 oarsmen. The submarine is known to have made several trips in the Thames River at a depth of up to 4.6 meters.
- 1715 – First Waterproof Suit
Sir Pierre Rémy de Beauve, from the French Navy, developed one of the oldest known waterproof diving suits. The helmet was connected to two hoses that allow the diver to breathe.
- January 3, 1840 – First Modern Sounding
British Royal Navy officer Sir James Clark Ross carried out the first ocean deep-water sounding at 2,425 fathoms (or 4404 meters) in the South Atlantic Ocean. He used the traditional method of lowering a hemp rope over the side of the ship.
- 1853 – Discovery of Deep Sea Life
Edward Forbes’ theory of the absence of life in deep waters was questioned when Louis F. de Pourtales of the U.S. Coast Survey examined sounding operations that found signs of life in depths over 1,830 meters.
- 1861 – First U.S. Navy Submarine
The United States Navy contracted French Brutus de Villeroi to design a submarine for them. The vessel, known as the Alligator, was made of iron with small circular glass openings on top for light and moves thanks to sixteen hand-powered paddles on the sides. It was built with the intention of using it in the Civil War, but it never was.
- 1882 – First Oceanographic Research Vessel
The U.S. Fisheries Commission Steamer Albatross is the first vessel built by any government for the sole purpose of marine research. It had conducted important oceanographic research for nearly 40 years.
- April 27, 1914 – First Acoustic Exploration of the Sea Floor
Canadian inventor Reginald Fessenden found a way to employ an oscillator to bounce sound waves between an iceberg and the sea floor. This technology lead to the development of we now know as sonar.
- 1925 – Mapping the Ocean Floor
Meteor, a German ship, sailed around the Atlantic Ocean recording detailed measurements of the ocean floor using echosounding technologies.
- 1934 – First Deep Ocean Dive
William Beebe and Otis Barton embarked on the first deep sea expedition, reaching a depth of 914 meters off the coast of Bermuda, discovering a previously unknown world.
- 1941 – World War II Research
During World War II, research lead to many new tools for ocean exploration: the first deep-ocean camera systems, early magnetometers, sonar technologies, and equipment for operating Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs).
- 1951 – Deepest Ocean Point Found
The British vessel HMS Challenger’s sonar located what seemed to be the ocean’s deepest point, with a depth of 10,929 meters, it is known as the Challenger Deep and it is located in the Pacific Ocean, in the Mariana Trench.
- January 23, 1960 – Deepest Ocean Dive
Jacques Piccard and two other men descended, inside a sturdy vehicle called Trieste, into the ocean to a depth of 10,911 meters, nearly seven miles. The explorers discovered amazing deep-sea life at these incredible depths.
- October 3, 1970 – NOAA Established
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was founded in the USA.
- September 19, 1979 – Deepest Dive in Dive Suit
Doctor Sylvia Earle set a new incredible record for a deep dive in a dive suit. Using new technology (a JIM suit), she walked on her own to a depth of 381 meters off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii.
- August 10, 1992 – Ocean Surface Mapping
The TOPEX/Poseidon satellite was launched and started providing oceanographic data that had been impossible to obtain before. TOPEX/Poseidon provided astoundingly accurate measurements of the surface height of nearly 95 percent of the Ocean. This new data helped developing a new understanding of ocean currents and their effect on global climate.
- 1995 – Seafloor Mapping from Space
Declassification of Geosat satellite radar altimetry data lead to worldwide mapping of the sea floor from space. Launched in 1985 by the U.S. Navy, Geosat measured the height of the sea surface by bouncing a radar beam off it. In 1995, the Navy finally declassified the Geosat data. David Sandwell of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Walter Smith of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were able to use this data to make detailed maps of the ocean floor. Their observed data significantly enhanced accuracy over earlier images of the ocean basin.
- 2010 – Census of Marine Life Completed
With a 10 year project that involved 2,700 scientists from 80 nations the first ever global census of ocean life was completed.
- 2017 – Seabed 2030 Announced
Seabed 2030 is a new international initiative that plans to map the ocean floor. Its objective, set by the Nippon Foundation of Japan and the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO), is to bring together all available bathymetric data to create a definitive map of the planet’s ocean floor by 2030.
Why it is Complicated to Explore the Ocean
95% of the ocean is unexplored and has never been seen by human eyes. You might be asking yourself: Why is that?
First of all, ocean exploration technology is relatively new. Of course, human beings have always explored the ocean’s surface, but it was only in the last few decades that we were able to start discovering its depths and floors.
Of course, with satellites we can chart the ocean surface temperatures, waters and color (which is an indicator of plant life), but we need much more advanced technology to map its deeper parts: like deep sea submarines and sonars. Also, it is difficult to see in deep water.
Another reason for the relatively small amount of ocean we have explored is that, at great depths, exploration conditions become extreme. The so-called “sunlight zone” ends at about 200 meters below the surface, making imaging much trickier, and pressure is extremely high.
Basically, it is easier to send a person in space than it is to get the bottom of the ocean! In fact, scientists know more about the surface of the Moon than they do about the ocean’s floor.
Why it is Important to Explore the Ocean
Why is it so important to explore the ocean and find out all we can about its huge ecosystem?
Unfortunately, nowadays, the ocean is facing some serious issues that compromise its balance and that of the whole planet. One of the main threats to its balance is ocean pollution through oil spills, littering and improper manufacturing plants.
The ocean is not only the largest ecosystem on Earth, it also generates over half the oxygen we breathe on the planet through some tiny plants that live on its surface (Phytoplankton), and impacts climate on a global scale.
Protecting the ocean is therefore one of the biggest actions we can take to reduce the effects of climate change. And, the more we know about it, the more efficient we can become at safeguarding its health and that of the planet.
Animal and plant life
Biological oceanography studies life within marine environments. Ecosystems are often a delicate balance, and knowing more about the ocean’s inhabitants is crucial if we want to safeguard their life.
Research can help us better manage the impacts of modern society on the most important ecosystems on Earth with better policies and regulations.
Effects on human health
Knowing more about the ocean will also help in deepening our knowledge on the close relationship humans have with it. By better understanding the dynamics of this vast underwater universe, we will be able to improve the way we relate to it and appreciate its importance in our life: for our health and that of the planet, but also for the economy, transportation and recreation sectors.
What percent of the ocean has been discovered 2023? ›
Yet, just 5 percent of the global ocean has been explored and less than 10 percent has been mapped using modern sonar technology.What was found in the ocean 2022? ›
An expedition to the bottom of the ocean off the coast of Antarctica revealed a shocking surprise, as detailed in a January 2022 study in Current Biology. Scientists discovered 60 million icefish nests covering an area the size of a small city.Where can 90% of the of the ocean's life be found? ›
It is also called the euphotic zone. Here there is enough light penetrating the water to support photosynthesis. Because photosynthesis occurs here, more than 90 percent of all marine life lives in the sunlit zone. The sunlit zones goes down about 600 feet.What will the ocean look like in 100 years? ›
But in our best-case scenarios, oceans are on track to rise 2 to 3 feet (0.6 to 0.9 metres) by 2100. Even a sea-level rise below 3 feet (0.9 metres) could displace up to 4 million people. Oceans not only will have less ice at the poles, but they will also continue to acidify in the tropics.Did we discover 5% of the ocean? ›
In fact, most of the waters remain unexplored, uncharted and unseen by our eyes. It might be shocking to find out, but only 5% of the ocean has been explored and charted by humans. The rest, especially its depths, are still unknown.Why is 95% of the ocean unexplored? ›
Given the high degree of difficulty and cost in exploring our ocean using underwater vehicles, researchers have long relied on technologies such as sonar to generate maps of the seafloor. Currently, less than ten percent of the global ocean is mapped using modern sonar technology.What will the ocean look like in 2030? ›
By 2030, half the world's oceans could be reeling from climate change, scientists say. More than half the world's oceans could suffer multiple symptoms of climate change over the next 15 years, including rising temperatures, acidification, lower oxygen levels and decreasing food supplies, new research suggests.What did NASA found in the ocean? ›
Artifact from Space Shuttle Challenger found on ocean floor, NASA confirms.What is the rarest thing in the ocean? ›
The rare ocean animal, the blob fish, is extremely gelatinous to the point that it literally looks like a blob with a face. They live in the deep waters of Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand.Have humans been to the bottom of the ocean? ›
But reaching the lowest part of the ocean? Only three people have ever done that, and one was a U.S. Navy submariner. In the Pacific Ocean, somewhere between Guam and the Philippines, lies the Marianas Trench, also known as the Mariana Trench.
Why can't we explore the ocean? ›
“The intense pressures in the deep ocean make it an extremely difficult environment to explore.” Although you don't notice it, the pressure of the air pushing down on your body at sea level is about 15 pounds per square inch. If you went up into space, above the Earth's atmosphere, the pressure would decrease to zero.Is there undiscovered sea life? ›
Researchers around the world continue to study marine life and habitats to help develop new strategies to preserve vital ocean ecosystems. Scientists estimate that 91 percent of ocean species have yet to be classified, and that more than eighty percent of our ocean is unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored..Will the Earth be habitable in 2100? ›
The amazing underground tunnels that bring water to form the Turpan Oasis in Northwest China provide historical testimony to humans' abilities to adapt. In the climate of 2100, there will be plenty of environments between these current extremes. Hence, it is safe to conclude that Earth will be habitable.What will be life like in 2050? ›
By 2050, about 75% of the world population will be living in cities. Then there will be buildings touching the sky and cities will be settled from the ground up. Roads will be built up to several floors. And to move around, the buildings will be connected to the skywalk.Did we discover 20% of the ocean? ›
Despite its size and impact on the lives of every organism on Earth, the ocean remains a mystery. More than 80 percent of the ocean has never been mapped, explored, or even seen by humans.Is the Earth 70 percent water and land? ›
About 71 percent of the Earth's surface is water-covered, and the oceans hold about 96.5 percent of all Earth's water. Water also exists in the air as water vapor, in rivers and lakes, in icecaps and glaciers, in the ground as soil moisture and in aquifers, and even in you and your dog. Water is never sitting still.How deep is the ocean floor? ›
The average depth of the ocean is about 3,688 meters (12,100 feet).Is there a hidden ocean? ›
But new research suggests a different origin for the oceans: they simply seeped out of the center of the Earth. The finding, published in Science, suggests that a reservoir of water is hidden in the Earth's mantle, more than 400 miles below the surface.How did ocean get salty? ›
Ocean salt primarily comes from rocks on land and openings in the seafloor. Salt in the ocean comes from two sources: runoff from the land and openings in the seafloor. Rocks on land are the major source of salts dissolved in seawater. Rainwater that falls on land is slightly acidic, so it erodes rocks.How much will Underwater cost 2050? ›
It found that an estimated 4.3 million acres — an area nearly the size of Connecticut — will be underwater by 2050, including $35 billion worth of real estate. “Higher flood waters are reaching further inland, flooding properties and buildings that have never flooded before,” Climate Central researchers wrote.
How much longer will the ocean last? ›
An extreme future climate scenario—assuming as much as 5 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century—would trigger a mass extinction within the next 300 years.How much longer do we have to save the ocean? ›
Despite being treated as humanity's rubbish dump for decades, the oceans of the world are proving remarkably resilient, says a new scientific review. Building on that resilience could lead to a full recovery within three decades, the researchers argue.Is there another planet with water? ›
Evidence points to oceans on other planets and moons, even within our own solar system. But Earth is the only known planet (or moon) to have consistent, stable bodies of liquid water on its surface. In our solar system, Earth orbits around the sun in an area called the habitable zone.What does NASA see on my birthday? ›
These photos, that date back through the last 30 years, can be timed precisely to your birthday. Just head to NASA.gov here to see how the stars were aligned on your special day!Did Mars ever had water? ›
The red planet once had a global ocean, rivers, and lakes. Then, the solar wind — charged particles from the Sun — stripped away the Martian atmosphere. As the planet's protective shield faded, all liquid water on the surface evaporated into space, merged with minerals, or fled underground to become water ice.Is there a giant creature in the ocean? ›
While the blue whale is the overall-largest creature of the sea, the lion's mane jellyfish goes to the top of the list for being the longest. These languid beauties have tentacles that reach an astonishing 120 feet in length.What is the most poisonous thing in the ocean? ›
While box jellyfish are found in warm coastal waters around the world, the lethal varieties are found primarily in the Indo-Pacific region and northern Australia. This includes the Australian box jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri), considered the most venomous marine animal.What is the most feared thing in the ocean? ›
The tiny Australian box jellyfish is considered the most venomous animal in the sea—their sting can cause cardiac arrest, paralysis or death in humans in just a few minutes.How many people are on the Moon? ›
Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin were the first of 12 human beings to walk on the Moon. Four of America's moonwalkers are still alive: Aldrin (Apollo 11), David Scott (Apollo 15), Charles Duke (Apollo 16), and Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17).What is the deepest a human has gone in the ocean? ›
Vescovo's trip to the Challenger Deep, at the southern end of the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench, back in May, was said to be the deepest manned sea dive ever recorded, at 10,927 meters (35,853 feet).
What is the deepest a human has gone? ›
Last year an expedition to the Mariana Trench made history by conducting the deepest crewed dive ever completed as it descended 10,927 metres into the Challenger Deep.Can we reach the ocean floor? ›
The deepest point ever reached by man is 35,858 feet below the surface of the ocean, which happens to be as deep as water gets on earth. To go deeper, you'll have to travel to the bottom of the Challenger Deep, a section of the Mariana Trench under the Pacific Ocean 200 miles southwest of Guam.Can submarines go to the bottom of the ocean? ›
The dive to the ocean's deepest point turned up some surprises. The news: During a four-hour exploration of the Mariana Trench, retired naval officer Victor Vescovo piloted his submarine to 10,927 meters (35,849 feet) below the sea's surface, making it the deepest dive on record.How much of the universe have we discovered? ›
We have come to understand the fundamental building blocks of ordinary matter, and what we know of the universe is only a tiny fraction of what is out there. We know only five per cent of the universe. The remaining 95 per cent is still a mystery – an unknown universe of new particles and forces awaits discovery.Are there still large undiscovered animals? ›
The answer is almost certainly yes. Scientists are still learning about life on Earth and the siphonophore is one of several giants that humans have found in recent decades.Are there undiscovered sharks? ›
Because deep in the darkest parts of the oceans, at unimaginable depths, live some of the most unusual and primitive sharks in the world. Many of these sharks live so deep that they are rarely seen and have barely been studied, and it's entirely possible that there are even more still that are as yet undiscovered.Does anyone live in the sea? ›
The stateless Bajau people, also known as 'sea nomads,' have literally lived at sea for over 1,000 years. For most of us, kicking back in a stilted chalet by the sea makes for picture-perfect holidays. But try living that way every day. For the stateless Bajau, living on the water is just daily routine.Will humans evolve to fly? ›
That mutation would be highly unlikely, considering our existing body physiology. Furthermore, flying isn't of much evolutionary use to humans, so it is not a trait that would be selected for through natural selection.How humans will look in 3000? ›
According to the company, humans in the year 3000 could have a hunched back, wide neck, clawed hand from texting and a second set of eyelids.Will humans evolve again? ›
Finally, Homo sapiens appeared. But we aren't the end of that story. Evolution won't stop with us, and we might even be evolving faster than ever.
How hot will the Earth be in 2050? ›
Since 1880, average global temperatures have increased by about 1 degrees Celsius (1.7° degrees Fahrenheit). Global temperature is projected to warm by about 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7° degrees Fahrenheit) by 2050 and 2-4 degrees Celsius (3.6-7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.Where will we be in 1,000 years? ›
We'll live somewhere beyond Earth.
In 1,000 years we'll probably have a thriving civilization on Mars, the Moon, or maybe even another planet beyond the solar system. We've already discovered billions and billions of planets outside our own solar system. There are 40 billion Earth-like planets in our own galaxy alone.
The end of earth will come in 7.59 billion years, unfortunately the end for all life on earth will come much sooner. Various geological catastrophes, like the formation of large igneous provinces (in short LIPs), pose a real danger to life on earth.How hot will the earth be in 2100? ›
Results from a wide range of climate model simulations suggest that our planet's average temperature could be between 2 and 9.7°F (1.1 to 5.4°C) warmer in 2100 than it is today.What will the world look like in 2070? ›
2070 will be marked by increased acidification of oceans and slow but remorseless sea-level rise that will take hundreds if not thousands of years to reverse – a rise of more than half a metre this century will be the trajectory. “It's a very different world,” Thorne says.What will the world be like in 2080? ›
In a study from 2019, researchers found that cities in North America by the year 2080 will basically feel like they're about 500 miles (800 km) away from where they currently are – in terms of the drastic changes that are taking place in their climate.How much of the ocean will be explored by 2030? ›
We need to go further and mobilize the international community so that at least 80% of the seabed is mapped by 2030. Knowing the depth and relief of the seabed is essential to understanding the location of ocean faults, the workings of ocean currents and tides, and the transport of sediments.What percent of the ocean do we want to protect by 2030? ›
More Than 100 Countries Call for Protecting at Least 30% of the Global Ocean by 2030 | The Pew Charitable Trusts. Protecting Life in the Arctic - U.S.Have humans reached the bottom of the ocean? ›
But reaching the lowest part of the ocean? Only three people have ever done that, and one was a U.S. Navy submariner. In the Pacific Ocean, somewhere between Guam and the Philippines, lies the Marianas Trench, also known as the Mariana Trench.How deep has a human gone in the ocean? ›
Vescovo's trip to the Challenger Deep, at the southern end of the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench, back in May, was said to be the deepest manned sea dive ever recorded, at 10,927 meters (35,853 feet).
Are we ever going to discover the whole ocean? ›
We continue to discover new features and creatures, clues to our past, and resources that can improve our future. But the ocean will never be fully explored. Earth is constantly changing, and it's important to understand these changes given the importance of the ocean in our everyday lives.What will be in the ocean at 2050? ›
By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world's oceans, study says. There is a lot of plastic in the world's oceans. It coagulates into great floating “garbage patches” that cover large swaths of the Pacific.What's below the ocean floor? ›
The ocean floor is called the abyssal plain. Below the ocean floor, there are a few small deeper areas called ocean trenches. Features rising up from the ocean floor include seamounts, volcanic islands and the mid-oceanic ridges and rises.Why can't we map the ocean floor? ›
The ocean is big, deep and impermeable to the laser altimeter that made mapping our less watery neighbor planets possible. To complete a map of Earth's ocean floor, you've got to take to the high seas by boat. The first oceanographic researchers—like those onboard the H.M.S.What will the ocean be like in 2100? ›
By the year 2100, swollen seas and rivers will redraw shorelines as climbing temperatures melt ice caps. In one of the most extreme scenarios, waters globally could rise by as much as eight feet, and even a smaller amount of flooding would inundate low-lying areas of the coast.How high will the ocean be in 2100? ›
The high-end global mean sea-level rise is now projected to be up to 1.3-1.6 meter for strong warming in 2100.How long will the ocean survive? ›
The new models suggest Earth could approach Permian levels of marine extinction by 2300 if emissions continue to increase. As temperatures rise, according to the research, species richness will decline near the tropics, with some animals migrating toward higher latitudes.