Did you know that the Earth is the only known planet to have oceans on it? However, in recent years NASA has discovered that Europa and Callisto, two of Jupiter’s moons, may contain oceans underneath thick crusts of ice. NASA has also confirmed that Mars has intermittent periods of liquid water flow. On Earth, there is one global ocean which is composed of five ocean basins and seven seas and nearly 91% of the oceans inhabitants have yet to be identified. All of this could potentially mean millions of more animal and plant species may reside in these bodies of water that have yet to be recognized and are in need of our protection! Oceans, as far as scientists know now, are unique to earth – isn’t that amazing?
The ocean is an interconnected and continuous mass of water that covers nearly 70% of the Earth’s surface and contains roughly 97% of the Earth’s water supply. The remaining 3% of water on Earth is found in glaciers, ice caps, below ground, rivers, and lakes. The five oceans include the Pacific, Indian, Atlantic, Arctic, and the Southern (Antarctic) oceans and they surround all of the seven continents of the Earth.
Ocean water has salinity of approximately 3.5% which means there are 35 grams of salt in every liter of water! Seawater, however, is not uniformly saline around the world. Evaporation and restricted circulation in some areas contributes to a higher concentration of salts in sea water in some areas. The oceans absorb the sun’s heat, transfer it to the atmosphere and distribute it around the world through ocean currents.
The ocean plays a critical role in molding weather patterns and climate. Storm systems are fueled by the energy that warm ocean waters provide and the storms provide freshwater back to Earth. The ocean also acts as a temperature regulator – the ocean warms in the summer and slowly releases the warmth in the winter and the cycle continues due to water’s high heat capacity. This high heat capacity is why cities along the coast have cooler summer months and warmer winter months compared to inland. The ocean is important for all life. Life on earth can thrive without land but life on earth may not survive without an ocean.
Life below the surface of the ocean is incredibly widespread and abundant. Over one million animal and plant species have been identified in the oceans. Scientists estimate that there are nine million species we have not yet discovered.
The oceans consist of a variety of plants and animals. Creatures like starfish, rays, and crabs live on the seafloor. Coral grow in large numbers and provide shelter for many species of oceans animals. Fish, sharks, and whales roam the endless open ocean. In more shallow waters, plants and algae thrive due to high sunlight penetration. These plants serve as food and shelter for many animals in the ocean, including seahorses, sea turtles, and even manatees.
Another reason the ocean is so important to us, is because of the algae and plants that produce oxygen! The ocean absorbs about one quarter of the atmospheric CO2 that humans create when we burn fossil fuels into the atmosphere. Through photosynthesis, marine plants take in vast amounts of carbon dioxide and provide a lot of the worlds oxygen supply.
In recent decades there has been a major concern about changes in seawater chemistry throughout the world’s oceans. Since the ocean can absorb around a quarter of the CO2 released every year, as the atmospheric CO2 levels increase, so do the levels in the ocean. The CO2 in the ocean dissolves to create carbonic acid.
This in turn lowers the pH of the water as a process called ocean acidification – this process affects more than just the ocean’s pH. This increase in acidity has been proven to inhibit shell-growth in marine animals and has been suspected to cause reproductive disorders in fish. Shell-forming animals include corals, oysters, lobsters, and many planktonic species.
In recent years the Royal Society concluded that ocean acidification would be most severe for coral reefs and the Southern Ocean. Remember that coral is a home to many other species of animals. It is important that we take care of our oceans, reduce our CO2 emissions, and think of other species that could be affected by our burning of fossil fuels!
There are several things we can do to protect our oceans and all of its inhabitants. By minding your carbon footprint and reducing energy consumption, we can reduce the effects of climate change and slow down our impact on the carbon footprint.
There are several things we can do to get started: taking the stairs instead of an elevator, carpooling, walking or biking, and switching to fluorescent light bulbs. Plastics that end up as debris in the ocean entangle thousands of marine animals each year – consider carrying a reusable bottle, use reusable bags when shopping, and recycle as often as you can!
Last, but certainly not least, educating yourself about oceans and marine life is a big step in solving a lot of problems that our oceans face today. After educating yourself, consider sharing the knowledge, not only to educate others, but also to inspire them to be an advocate for the ocean!🐬
Daniella Burleson is an Animal Care Intern with The Urban Interface. She is a junior at Texas A&M studying Animal Science. She has a passion for veterinary medicine and hopes to one day own her own veterinary clinic.