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Importance of the Oceans

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Just what is down there?

Mostly the oceans are cold, dark and have extremely high pressure. Except at the very top, they are completely inhospitable to humans. Even this humpback whale can only dive to about 700 feet, so there's a lot about the ocean it doesn't know. Earth would not be the same planet without its oceans.

Oceans Moderate Climate

The oceans, along with the atmosphere, keep temperatures fairly constant worldwide. While some places on Earth get as cold as -70 o C and others as hot as 55 o C, the range is only 125 o C. On Mercury temperatures go from -180 o C to 430 o C, a range of 610 o C.

The oceans, along with the atmosphere, distribute heat around the planet. The oceans absorb heat near the Equator and then move that solar energy to more polar regions. The oceans also moderate climate within a region. At the same latitude, the temperature range is smaller in lands nearer the oceans than away from the oceans. Summer temperatures are not as hot, and winter temperatures are not as cold, because water takes a long time to heat up or cool down.

Water Cycle

The oceans are an essential part of Earth’s water cycle. Since they cover so much of the planet, most evaporation comes from oceans and most precipitation falls on oceans.

Biologically Rich

The oceans are home to an enormous amount of life. That is, they have tremendous biodiversity ( Figure below ). Tiny ocean plants, called phytoplankton, create the base of a food web that supports all sorts of life forms. Marine life makes up the majority of all biomass on Earth. ( Biomass is the total mass of living organisms in a given area.) These organisms supply us with food and even the oxygen created by marine plants.

Polar bear swimming in the Arctic Ocean

Polar bears are well adapted to frigid Arctic waters.

Summary

  • Oceans moderate Earth's temperature by not changing temperature rapidly and by distributing heat around the planet.
  • Oceans are an enormous reservoir for water in the water cycle.
  • Oceans have tremendous biodiversity and the majority of all biomass on Earth.

Making Connections

Explore More

Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

http://cmore.soest.hawaii.edu/oceanacidification/documents/PML_TechnicalSheet_high_CO2_world.pdf Use pages 1 & 2.

  1. How much of Earth's surface do the ocean's cover? How much of global primary productivity comes from the oceans?
  2. How do the oceans regulate the Earth system?
  3. What are the ocean's living and non-living resources?
  4. What social and economic goods and services does the ocean provide?
  5. What do ocean currents transport as they travel around the globe?
  6. What does carbon dioxide do in the oceans?
  7. If a lot of the carbon dioxide that has been released in the past 150 years has entered the deep ocean, when might it cause temperatures to rise and why?
  8. How are marine organisms used for food and biotechnology?
  9. What other resources are found in the ocean?
  10. How does the ocean provide defense from storms?

Review

  1. What organisms form the base of the ocean food web?
  2. How do the oceans moderate Earth's temperature?
  3. What role do oceans play in the water cycle?

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