The oceans cover almost two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, absorb 80 percent of all radiation coming from the sun, and contain nearly 97 percent of the Earth’s water. Most of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometers of the sea, but there is much about the ocean that scientists are just beginning to understand. While the use of satellites, undersea exploration vehicles, and other technological developments have revealed new information, they have also raised more questions.

It is well-known that great ocean currents affect the Earth’s temperature. Oceans participate in shaping weather and climate, redistribute heat energy across the Earth’s surface, and cycle nutrients—such as carbon dioxide—through the Earth’s systems. Therefore, it has become increasingly important to understand ocean processes since they play such a critical role in the global budget of heat, water, and carbon.

While already a natural sink, some scientists believe that oceans might offer the best opportunity to store additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, a practice known as carbon sequestration.

It is thought this can be done through ocean fertilization—promoting the growth of phytoplankton which draws carbon dioxide into the oceans. What allows for long-term carbon sequestration is a “leak” in the pump, consisting of the organic matter that sinks and settles on the ocean floor forming sedimentary deposits that are eventually buried. While this will not be the only solution; as research continues, the effect on global climate could be significant.

The oceans are also a vast global commons. The American continents are surrounded by great oceans and have long relied on their bounty. More than half of the population in the United States live near the coast. These coastal ecosystems are critical to our economy; it includes our fisheries and related industries, abundant tourism and recreation, and a vast network through which to transport goods. Water also provides an array of critical ecosystem services, from its participation in various biogeochemical cycles and nutrient exchange, to providing natural protection and habitat, to degrading and dispersing many environmental pollutants.



The Environmental Literacy Council