Why Ocean Exploration Deserves More Of Our Attention
Human beings are naturally speculative creatures. As a result of our curiosity — from discovering new planets across the cosmos to digging dinosaur feathers out of our terrain — we’ve been trying to explain the world to everyone willing to listen. Our longing for never-ending knowledge and the thirst for adventure has allowed us a peek inside, as well as outside Earth.
Yet, despite all that we have discovered across the universe, so many of us naively let ourselves believe that space is the ‘final frontier.’ We’ve all dreamed about sitting on the roof with our telescopes to map out constellations at some point during our lives, and we were all once kids infatuated with the idea of rocketing into space.
Yes, space is just as overwhelmingly frightening as it is appealing, holding the potential for alien invasions, the existence of black holes, eons of darkness. But amidst our fascination with space, it seems like not many people have lowered their heads long enough to look at their own planet.
If they did, they would become aware that nothing is as startling as the ocean.
As of now, we have explored less than ten percent of the global ocean. This might come off as a surprise, but the surface of Mars has been graphed in more detail than the area of the Earth’s ocean floor, even though oceans make up about seventy percent of our planet’s surface!
So Why Haven’t We Explored More Of The Ocean?
In all honesty, the answer is a labyrinth. Although we’ve been sailing the oceans for much longer when compared to space, too much of the ocean remains unknown. Why?
For starters, let’s take marine technology, which is fairly new, into consideration. Satellites used to explore the ocean, submarines, and modern sonar has been used only for the last fifty or so years. It doesn’t help either that satellite imaging can only be used to study the mere surface of the ocean. Below that, our satellites aren’t all that effective.
Unlike space exploration, where scientists can see everything through telescopes, ocean exploration doesn’t have liberty. The inability to properly see through the surface of the oceans makes it such a mystery. To add to that, even if we made it past the surface, the unnerving conditions under the ocean also make its exploration a vicious struggle. It’s said that at the deepest part of the sea, the pressure that you would feel upon yourself is far more than the human body is equipped to handle.
“In some ways, it’s a lot easier to send people into space than it is to send people to the bottom of the sea,”
says Dr. Gene Carl Feldman, who is an oceanographer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
“The intense pressures in the deep ocean make it an extremely different environment to explore.”
And Larry Mayer, who is the director of the Center for Marine Science and Coastal Engineering at the University of New Hampshire, has told the BBC that we could map the entire deep oceans for $3 billion, which is no more than a single Mars mission, and that it’s only a matter of commitment’.
What Have We Found In The Ocean That We Have Actually Explored So Far?
Let’s get it out of the way first that an estimated 80% of all life on earth is found under the ocean surface.
“Exploration is a human endeavor. We were born naturally curious,” Alan Leonardi, the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, has said, and additionally revealed, “We know so little about the deep ocean that pretty much anyone can find something new if they were doing something unique down there.”
Some of the discoveries made under the ocean’s surface even had the most brilliant of scientists stumped.
We’ve all heard about The Bermuda Triangle, which is still an ongoing mystery even after all these years. It’s said to be a mysterious region where multiple planes and ships have vanished without a trace. A lot of researchers, though, believe that natural changes in weather could explain these disappearances.
Anyone interested in the subject might also know about The Mariana Trench, a crescent-shaped trench in the Western Pacific and contains the deepest known points on earth. It has only ever been visited by three explorers and is knohas that bubble up liquid sulfur and carbon dioxide. Surprisingly diverse life has been discovered even in these harsh conditions. The deepest part of the ocean was discovered in 1960 by Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh when they reached a depth of 10,916 meters.
It’s about time we also learned about the siphonophore, which might be the longest animal ever discovered with its length being over 150 feet, uses its numerous tentacles to sting and trap its prey, injecting a toxin into its body. Scientists have already found over 175 species of siphonophores.
There are also very fascinating but slightly lesser-known discoveries, like:
- The Coral Tower discovered around the Great Barrier Reef (but detached from it) stands taller than the Empire State Building at 1,640 feet.
- Zealandia, which once made up about five percent of the area of Gondwana, is now a long, narrow continent that is mostly submerged in the South Pacific Ocean. It’s about half the size of Australia, but only seven percent of it is above sea level.
- A massive underwater river has been found flowing along the bottom of the Black Sea, and more research on it could easily reveal how life manages to survive in these deep oceans far, far away from the waters that are rich in nutrients. The said river is estimated to be the world’s sixth-largest river in the world if it was on land, in terms of the volume of water flowing through it.
Neal Agarwal, a creative coder, made a website named The Deep Sea among, an interactive visualization of the ocean many of his other equally impressive ones, and take a deeper look into the creatures that have been discovered across the oceans that we have managed to explore so far, hit Neal. Fun and scroll away! It has been viewed over 10 million times and is even appearing in some aquariums.
In What Ways Could Marine Exploration Benefit Us?
Unbarring the secrets surrounding the ocean can reveal brand new sources of medical therapies and vaccines, food, energy, and give way for new inventions that imitate the adaptive features of deep-sea creatures.
Information gathered from ocean exploration can easily help us look into how we’re stirring the Earth’s environment and how we’re being affected by it in return — including climate change and weather.
- The understanding gathered from marine exploration can also assist us in responding to earthquakes, tsunamis, and other hazards in a better way.
- Relics of the past found under the service of the ocean can help us piece together parts of our history and tighten our grasp on our heritage.
- Discovering new resources may boost our economy.
- The new life forms discovered around the deep sea might be useful in making bioproducts that could use human health.
On the subject of why we should be paying more attention to the study of the oceans, Sociologist Amitai Etzioni has written in Issues in science and Technology,
“The basic reason is that deep space—NASA’s favorite turf—is a distant, hostile, and barren place, the study of which yields few major discoveries and an abundance of overhyped claims. By contrast, the oceans are nearby, and their study is a potential source of discoveries that could prove helpful for addressing a wide range of national concerns from climate change to disease.”
To summarize, apparently, there isn’t enough time and money spent on exploring the ocean because it’s expensive, difficult, and ‘uninspiring.’ We’re all obsessed with the idea of staring up at the stars and dream of reaching them one day. Still, very few of us look down and wonder if we could go deeper.
But doesn’t Earth mostly belong to the oceans? Wouldn’t we be better at protecting our planet the better we knew about it? Aren’t we all somewhat closer to getting attacked by a sea creature than ever coming in contact with an ‘alien’?
Maybe one day, we’d be around a generation that talks about wanting to dive into the ocean just as much as it talks about wanting to float among stars.
And maybe next time you’re on the water, you too would wonder if the depths that you’re cruising over are part of the greatest mysteries ever known to man.