Welcome to oceanography, or the study of the oceans. There are other terms for this science, including marine science or ocean science. Regardless of the term used, the study of the oceans is a vast science that encompasses all aspects of the largest geographic feature on our planet- our ocean! Let's start out by considering the importance of our oceans.
Recently, many people have been making a huge fuss about the health of our ocean, from cleaning it up to climate change. They talk about all of these different things: ocean warming, ocean acidification, overfishing, pollution, and coral bleaching. They tell us the oceans are in grave danger. So, yeah, all of this sounds really bad but honestly what does it all mean? More importantly, why should it matter to you?
Physical Map of the World under CC 4.0
Looking at a map you can tell that the ocean takes up the majority of our planets surface area, and when calculated it covers a whopping 72% of the earths surface! The ocean also provides over 50% of the earth’s oxygen and stores 50 times more carbon dioxide than the atmosphere. It also plays a huge role in regulating our planet’s climate and weather patterns. If you want to read a little more about all of this check this article out.
If all of that doesn’t convince you of the importance of the ocean, think about all the fun that people can have involving the ocean and the beach. There’s swimming, surfing, snorkeling, SCUBA diving, boating, parasailing, the list goes on and on!
The ocean also plays a pretty big part of the economies of the world. You may not realize how important the ocean is for coastal communities in developing countries. For example just in the United States the ocean produces about 282 million dollars per year and creates about 3 million jobs. It also provides a mode for 90% of all trade transportation in the world. Lastly, we use the ocean for a large portion of our protein source.
People swimming and diving in the water by GoodFreePhotos CC by 2.0
The biodiversity of oceans is critical. Coral reefs (a tropical marine ecosystem) are often considered the “tropical rainforest of the sea“ due to their diversity in marine life and varying animal species. There is still a lot to discover about the ocean, however we do know it’s important to maintain because the ocean is the largest ecosystem we have on the planet. This ecosystem maintains homeostasis (a steady state) via regulation by abiotic and biotic factors. The oceans are often overlooked especially since we don’t see the dynamics between marine organisms and our own environment as we don’t share this habitat.
Although the ocean is somewhat overlooked it is a truly remarkable ecosystem. Unfortunately, there has been a rise in ecological crisis in aquatic ecosystems mostly at the hands of humans. For example, overfishing can alter predator/prey balance, and pollution can significantly impact the health of the environment. If the oceans continue to be in crisis at a global level, it could result in mass species extinction. Therefore, it is really important to care for our oceans.
As we embark on this journey into the study of the oceans, please remember why our understanding is so important.