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days until World Ocean Day.
World Ocean Day logo

Water, Water Everywhere

 

What would our planet be without water? The thin veneer of blue that disguises 70% of the surface of our planet may be small compared to the volume of the Earth, but it's large in terms of its effects. Water dominates many natural processes and inspires human exploration and artistry.

Water. The very substance of the ocean. Simple as molecules go. Imposing in its mass. Exquisite in shape and motion. Unmatched in physical and chemical prowess. God-like in its life-giving providence.

Water gives the ocean structure, movement, influence and life. From the deepest depths some six and a half miles below the sea surface to the outer reaches of the atmosphere nearly 400 miles above, water makes its presence known on our planet. The ocean may exist only as a body of water inhabiting the razor-thin dimples in the Earth’s crust, but it dominates nearly every process that occurs on our planet’s surface.

The ocean carves our spectacular coastlines, sculpts our marine terraces and blasts away at the rocky coast leaving stacks and arches as its signature piece. It piles our beaches with sand in its gentle moments and strips them bare in its fury. The ocean cools our summers, warms our winters, fogs our Junes and clouds our mountaintops. Its cool, nutrient-rich waters nourish a web of life that is at once transient, migratory, exotic and vibrant. Its ocean waves inspire athleticism, artistry, economics and culture.

None of this would exist without water.

Yet her ocean by its very nature defies definition. What is the ocean—an ocean—or oceans? Are there one oceans or many? A single world ocean or three or five or seven major oceans? Is it the cup or the water that’s in the cup?

To study the ocean is to study water and all that it imparts to the ocean and our planet. The two are inseparable—conjoined twins—but separate them we must if we are to grasp the profound impact of the oceans (and water) on our planet and our lives.

Like crude pottery bowls, the ocean basins give shape and motion to the water they contain. The water within them is stirred and deflected in countless ways; driven by tides and winds and a myriad of physical and astronomical forces interacting with the continental margins and seafloor. At the same time, the ocean basins serve as a repository for any waterborne sediments or debris or dissolved or man-made compounds carried from land to sea. In healthy and unhealthy ways, the land enriches the sea, dissolving into it nearly every element present on Earth. Water sent skyward from the ocean that falls on land strips minerals from the Earth and carries them to the ocean. Seawater gushed though geothermal plumbing beneath the sea bottom gives and takes a chemical cocktail on its course. Such dissolutions maintain the dilute brew of chemical compounds in the sea that impart their own physical, chemical, geological and biological signatures across our planet.

 

   
   
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