The world´s oceans - deep and unexplored

06 March, 2024

More than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water and it is sometimes referred to as “the blue planet.” Most original life forms evolved in the ocean, and to this day, the marine environment maintains a biodiversity not found in any other ecosystem. Humans are highly dependent on the ocean.

The expression “the seven seas” was used in the past by sailors who sailed across all the world’s oceans. These include the North Pacific Ocean, South Pacific Ocean, North Atlantic Ocean, South Atlantic Ocean, Arctic Ocean (Northern Ocean), Southern Ocean (Antarctic Ocean), and the Indian Ocean. The world ocean, also known as the oceans, is defined as the interconnected water area surrounding the Earth’s continents. The world ocean is divided into three oceans: the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Indian Ocean, with the Pacific Ocean being the largest, covering over 30 percent of the Earth’s surface. Sometimes, the Antarctic Ocean is also considered a separate ocean. The three oceans include delimited seas or sub-seas. A sub-sea or semi-enclosed sea is a delimited part of an ocean. For example, the North Sea, the Arctic Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea are sub-seas of the Atlantic Ocean.

Several of the world’s seas are relatively warm, but the average temperature of the world’s oceans is only around 3.5 degrees Celsius. This is because the large deep-water basins consist of cold polar water.

Large parts of the oceans are lawless

A large portion of the open sea areas does not belong to any individual country and is often referred to as the “high seas” or deep sea. These areas constitute almost half of the Earth’s surface, two-thirds of the world’s ocean area, and 95 percent of the world’s ocean volume. The deep sea is not subject to national laws and, in practice, belongs to everyone. The United Nations has long negotiated how these areas should be managed. After more than ten years of intense negotiations, the UN adopted a new binding treaty for the sustainable use of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction in 2023. This is a step towards fulfilling the global commitments of the international biodiversity agreement from 2022, where the goal is to protect at least 30 percent of the ocean by 2030.

Extreme environments

Despite the ocean being a place where various organisms thrive, there are many extreme environments in the sea. From temperatures below freezing to near boiling points in hot underwater springs. Where the sea meets the land, the waves are powerful, UV radiation is high, and it is home to a large biodiversity. Some organisms utilize a wide range of habitats, while others specialize in a single type of environment.

The deep sea is a hostile environment for us humans. At a depth of 30 meters, most light is gone, at 70 to 80 meters, most of the oxygen disappears, and the pressure at the bottom is high. Therefore, very little of the deep sea has been explored. In fact, barely five percent of the ocean’s depths have been explored by humans. Researchers also know less than they would like about the organisms that can live in the deep sea. Moreover, they cannot be brought up and studied in aquariums or laboratories because they are adapted to withstand the high pressure in the depths of the sea.

To live in the depths of the oceans, where light does not reach, animals must adapt to life in darkness. Many have large mouths, light organs, or large and extra light-sensitive eyes. There is also a diversity of microorganisms living in this challenging environment. The fact that life can exist under such extreme conditions without oxygen or sunlight has led researchers to consider that there might be life on other planets that we have previously thought to be lifeless.

Although we still know very little about the organisms of the deep, it is known that overfishing and bottom trawling can also affect deep-sea animals. Many organisms are still undiscovered and therefore at risk of disappearing if fishing continues as it has done so far.

The Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean is the world’s deepest place in the sea. The maximum depth is Challenger Deep, which is approximately eleven kilometers below the sea surface. At the same time, the average depth of the world’s oceans is about 3700 meters. Sweden’s deepest point is 560 meters in Bratten in Skagerrak, and the Baltic Sea’s deepest point, Landsort Deep at 459 meters, is west of Gotland.

Ecosystem services

The world’s oceans and seas are a significant asset for us humans. The oceans provide us with a multitude of services. To remind us of the importance of the oceans and the need to protect them, June 8th has been designated as World Oceans Day by the United Nations. But there are more reminders of how important the ocean is in our daily lives.

World oceans give us more than just food. They produce more than half of all the oxygen in the atmosphere through photosynthesis, absorb greenhouse gases, and contribute to tourism. Some well-visited tourist destinations at sea include Gotland, the Koster Islands, and other archipelago areas.

Additionally, hundreds of millions of people depend on fish and other resources from the sea. More than 38 million people are employed in the fishing industry worldwide. The oceans are also widely used as transportation routes.

Coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests are crucial places for the young. They are also significant for people living on the coast as they act as a protection zone against floods, storms, and can serve as wave breakers and erosion protection.

Text: Lina Mattsson
Photo: Tobias Dahlin, Simon Stanford, Johan Candert

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