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10 Oceanography Facts You Need to Know

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Oceanographers, scientists who study the ocean, research a broad range of topics that cover just about everything there is to know about the sea. The field includes different branches. Biological oceanography studies ocean life and biology. Physical oceanography examines physical processes, like the transportation of sand by currents or the movement of water. There are many others, as well.All these branches come together to study the ocean’s many vast and biologically diverse ecosystems and geological features. Because of oceanography, we know a lot of amazing facts about our oceans. Here are 10 of some of the most interesting oceanography facts that anyone should know.

1. Most Aquatic Life Remains Unidentified

Despite decades of intensive research, most aquatic life remains mostly unknown to science. An estimated two-thirds are still unidentified.

The ocean constitutes around 90% of the habitable space on the planet, according to UNESCO.

While there’s still a lot to learn, scientists are making significant progress. There have been major discoveries in the past few years — like the first few sightings of a live giant squid.

2. Much of the Ocean Floor Remains Unmapped

Around 80-85% of the ocean’s floor is still unmapped. The ocean floor isn’t totally unknown to scientists. Most of it has been scanned at a low resolution that gives us a rough idea of what it looks like. However, our view is about as clear as that of a planet like Mars or Venus.

Just 0.05 percent of the ocean floor has been mapped to the highest possible level of detail that sonar can capture.

3. There Are Incredible Mountains, Rivers and Waterfalls Beneath the Ocean Surface

Much of what we do know about the ocean floor, however, is pretty spectacular.

Like the other scientists who study the Earth, oceanographers discovered some incredible information about the physical structure of the land beneath the oceans. The geography and geology of the ocean floor is highly diverse, and home to breathtaking physical feature. There are mysterious deep-sea rivers, the world’s largest waterfall and the longest mountain range in the world, the mid-ocean ridge.

You may have also heard of some of the other features that exist in the ocean depths, like the Marianas Trench. It contains the lowest points known to exist on Earth.

4. More People Have Been to the Moon Than the Deepest Parts of the Ocean

Some oceanography facts can be quite eye-opening, especially when it comes to the number of people who have gone to the bottom. Part of why much of the ocean is still unmapped is that it’s very hard to reach its depths. In fact, more people have been to the moon than the bottom of the Marianas Trench. While 12 different astronauts have made the journey to the moon, just two people have made it to the bottom of the trench.

5. The Oceans May Contain More Historical Artifacts Than The World’s Museums Combined

Over centuries, shipwrecks, changing tides and floods led to losing history to the depths of the ocean. Now, it’s normal for scientists to regularly find historical artifacts resting at the bottom of the sea or washed up on shore.

It’s hard to know how many artifacts are at the bottom of the sea. Archaeologists believe there could easily be more history lost to the oceans than what is preserved in all the world’s museums.

6. The Oceans Are Full of Gold

There are other treasures in the sea beyond historical artifacts — the waters of the ocean are also full of gold. According to NOAA, there are more than 20 million pounds of gold suspended in ocean water. For comparison, there are around 147 million troy ounces, or about 10.7 million pounds, of gold in Fort Knox.

However, this gold is distributed throughout the entire ocean. Therefore, the concentration of gold is somewhere in the range of a few parts per trillion for each liter of seawater.

7. The Ocean Contains the World’s Largest Living Structure

The Great Barrier Reef, a coral reef system made up of more than 2,900 individual reefs, is the world’s largest living structure. At a little more than 1,400 miles, it’s both longer than any other coral reef system or living structure on the planet.

The reef is also home to a huge number of different species, and is likely as biodiverse as the rainforests. However, like the rainforests, it’s also threatened by climate change. Rising ocean acidity caused by CO2 threatens to kill off significant amounts of the reef unless action is taken.

8. Deep Ocean Water Temperature Varies Massively

In general, water at the bottom of the ocean is very, very cold — around 32 to 37 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold water is heavier than warm water and tends to sink as low as it can go. However, not all the water at the bottom of the ocean is so frigid. Hydrothermal vents, located at the bottom of the sea, can release seawater that is boiling hot — reaching temperatures as high as 700 degrees Fahrenheit.

9. Most of the Oxygen We Breathe Comes From the Ocean

By most estimates, the ocean produces around 70% of the oxygen we breathe — mostly from phytoplankton, a type of marine organism.

In addition to this, phytoplankton also provide the foundation for most ocean ecosystems by filling out the base of the food chain.

10. The Oceans Are the Planet’s Biggest Carbon Sinks

The ocean naturally pulls huge amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Right now, scientists estimate that one-third of all carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere by human activities has been absorbed by the oceans.

However, this absorption of carbon dioxide is starting to cause problems for ocean life. Increased acidification, driven by heightened water CO2 levels, is harming major ocean ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef. Rising CO2 levels can also lead to algal blooms — rapid growth in the phytoplanktons that pull in much of the atmosphere’s CO2. This can cause serious problems for local ecosystems and ocean life.

What These Oceanography Facts Can Teach Us

Thanks to oceanographers, we know a lot more about our oceans than we would otherwise. Still, much about the sea remains unknown. More discoveries await for adventurous scientists willing to travel to the depths.

10 Oceanography Facts You Need to Know
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Article by: Megan Ray Nichols

Megan Ray Nichols is a freelance science writer and science enthusiast. Her favorite subjects include astronomy and the environment. Megan is also a regular contributor to The Naked Scientists, Thomas Insights, and Real Clear Science. When she isn't writing, Megan loves watching movies, hiking, and stargazing.