About the Ocean

The Ocean is a vast and mysterious ecosystem largely unknown to humans, yet is vital to our lives’. The Ocean’s microscopic creatures produce about 50% of the oxygen we breathe and the Ocean’s physical properties directly affect our weather patterns. With the Ocean covering over 70% of the Earth’s surface, most scientists agree that our planet should be referred to as “Planet Ocean” instead of “Planet Earth”. Test your own Ocean knowledge on this page by discovering Ocean Literacy, Properties and Threats.
Ocean Literacy
Ocean Literacy, defined as knowledge of the Ocean’s influence on you and your influence of the Ocean, is a term that the Ocean Student Society has adopted. Ocean Literacy principles and mandates were created by a number of oceanographic institutions in the United States after the results of an analysis on how much public knowledge there is on the Ocean and how often ocean science is taught in school. The OSS is dedicated to increasing the level of ocean literacy in students, teachers and the public through mentoring, outreach and networking. To become more ocean literate, one should take the time to understand the essential ocean literacy principles, be able to communicate ocean science effectively and be able to understand the implications of decisions made regarding the resources and state of the Ocean in a global context.
There are 7 Essential Ocean Literacy Principles:
  1. The Earth has on big Ocean with many features
  2. The Ocean and life in the Ocean shape the features of the Earth
  3. The Ocean is a major influence on weather and climate
  4. The Ocean makes the Earth habitable
  5. The Ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems
  6. The Ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected
  7. The Ocean is largely unexplored
To learn more about the fundamentals of ocean literacy check out the main website here.
Ocean Properties

  1. Salinity – The concentration (amount) of dissolved salt in seawater. Salinity is composed of several salts, but primarily sodium (Na) and chloride (Cl) ions. It is often measured in parts per thousand (ppt), which is approximately the grams of salt per kilogram of solution
  2. Temperature – The temperature of water is degrees Celsius. In the ocean, the water temperature is warmest at the surface and decreases with depth. The ocean also has several thermoclines, or regions within the ocean that rapidly change in temperature with depth.
  3. Density – Density is defined as a material’s mass per unit volume. Less dense things (or solutions) float on top of those that are more dense. In the ocean, density is determined by temperature, salinity and pressure; density increases with an increase in salinity and pressure and a decrease in temperature
  4. Pressure – Force per unit area exerted on an object. In the ocean, pressure is essentially the weight of the water column above. Measuring Ocean pressure also gives an estimate of the depth and tidal patterns
  5. Oxygen – Oxygen is present in the ocean and is required for most animals to live (except those at extreme ecosystems such as hydrothermal vents). Oxygen is produced by phytoplankton in the surface waters and respired by organisms throughout the water column.

Ocean Threats

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  1. Ocean Acidification – A decrease in the Ocean’s pH (becoming less basic) associated with climate change. Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide, primarily from human fossil fuel consumption, reduces ocean pH. The rate of acidification will accelerate unless carbon dioxide emissions are curbed dramatically. This is having and will continue to have, significant impacts on shell-forming marine organisms such as shellfish, corals and zooplankton. The calcium carbonate necessary for forming their shells is recycled from the shells and skeletons of marine organisms that, upon death, drop to the bottom and decompose. However, as carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean, it reacts with water to form carbonic acid, which, in turn, drives the further breakdown of calcium carbonate shells among the living organisms. There is also less calcium carbonate available to them for shell-formation as the released carbonate is quickly taken up by the excess hydrogen ions.
  2. Hypoxia – An oceanic phenomenon where oxygen concentrations fall below the level necessary to sustain most animal life – generally defined by dissolved oxygen levels below 2 mg/L (milligrams/litre) or ppm (parts per million). Hypoxia can be caused by a number of factors, including excess nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, and water body stratification due to saline or temperature gradients. Excess nutrients promote algal growth. As dead algae decompose, oxygen is consumed in the process resulting in low levels remaining in the water. During the summer of 2002, dissolved oxygen levels in the coastal waters of Oregon dropped so low that fishes, crabs and other marine organisms had to move away or suffocate to death. The Saanich Inlet, near Victoria, B.C., is a naturally occurring hypoxic estuary and fjiord due to a large sill at the mouth of the inlet, which restricts oxygenated water from reaching depth until winter storms increase mixing.
  3. Coral Bleaching – Bleaching occurs when stress causes corals to expel symbiotic algae (zooanxthelle) resulting in a loss of colour (hence the appearance of being bleached). Several factors can cause bleaching, many tied to climate change, including: seawater warming, ocean acidification, sea-level rise, or changes in storm intensity. However, the biggest driver resulting in mass bleaching events is warming temperatures. By 2080, 80 to 100 percent of the world’s coral reefs will suffer annual bleaching events due to global warming. Dr. Phil Dearden heads up the Marine Protected Areas Research Group in the UVic Geography department and who’s research involves Coral Bleaching in South East Asia.
  4. Habitat loss – The destruction of ecological structures and functions vital to maintaining the richness and abundance of species native to an area. While habitat loss can be caused by natural hazards such as lightning strikes or avalanches, the human-caused (anthropogenic) loss of habitat is of greatest concern. Activities such as bottom trawling are incredibly destructive to marine environments. The loss of spawning grounds caused by forest harvesting, agricultural practices or urban sprawl also have a direct impact on fish, such as salmon, that move between salt and fresh water ecosystems
  5. Eutrophication – The release of excess nutrients (primarily nitrogen and phosphorus) into a water way arising from human activities (industry, mining, farming, storm drains etc.). Excess nutrients promote increase algal growth, sometimes resulting in massive and lethal “blooms”.

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