Oceans cover about 71% of the Earth's surface and are immeasurably important to all life on the planet. Oceans play an important role in regulating the climate.
One example of how the oceans affect our world can be found in the Gulf Stream, an Atlantic Ocean current that brings warm water from south of the equator through tropical waters to areas of Europe, including the United Kingdom. The warm water in the current warms the air. Without the Gulf Stream, temperatures in the UK would be significantly colder.
Oceans are also an important part of the carbon cycle, which helps to regulate the amount of carbon bearing greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, that enter the atmosphere. Scientists investigating climate change want to better understand the oceans' ability to absorb carbon dioxide.
Image: Waves crash against the cliffs at Land's End, Cornwall, England
Complex ocean currents are driven by sinking cold water.
Dr Iain Stewart explains how deep ocean currents are part of a global network of currents ultimately driven by cold water sinking in northern seas. This network, known as the great ocean conveyor, transports oxygen, nutrients and warmth around the world.
Wind starts waves on their long journeys.
Dr Iain Stewart explains how wind in the mid-ocean starts waves on their way towards shore.
An accident reveals the complexity of ocean currents.
Dr Iain Stewart shows how containers of rubber duck toys lost at sea graphically reveal the complexity of the ocean currents that distribute oxygen, nutrients and heat around the planet.
A continent is breaking apart at Ethiopia's Afar Depression.
Dr Iain Stewart explains how new oceans are created when continents are broken apart by the Earth's moving plates.
Tiny organisms in the oceans produce about half the planet's oxygen.
Dr Iain Stewart explains how phytoplankton produce about half of the Earth's oxygen.
An ocean (from Ancient Greek Ὠκεανὸς (Okeanos); the World Ocean of classical antiquity) is a body of saline water that composes a large part of a planet's hydrosphere. In the context of Earth, it refers to one or all of the major divisions of the planet's World Ocean – they are, in descending order of area, the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Southern (Antarctic), and Arctic Oceans. The word "sea" is often used interchangeably with "ocean", but strictly speaking a sea is a body of saline water (possibly a division of the World Ocean) partly or fully enclosed by land.
Earth is the only planet known to have an ocean (or any large amounts of open liquid water). Approximately 72% of the planet's surface (~3.6x108 km2) is covered by saline water that is customarily divided into several principal oceans and smaller seas, with the ocean covering approximately 71% of the Earth's surface. In terms of the hydrosphere of the Earth, the ocean contains 97% of the Earth's water. Oceanographers have stated that out of 97%, only 5% of the ocean as a whole on Earth has been explored. Because it is the principal component of Earth's hydrosphere, the world ocean is integral to all known life, forms part of the carbon cycle, and influences climate and weather patterns. The total volume is approximately 1.3 billion cubic kilometres (310 million cu mi) with an average depth of 3,682 metres (12,080 ft). It is the habitat of 230,000 known species, although much of the ocean's depths remain unexplored and it is estimated that over two million marine species exist. The origin of Earth's oceans is still unknown, but oceans are believed to have formed in the Hadean period and may have been the impetus for the emergence of life.
Extraterrestrial oceans may be composed of a wide range of elements and compounds. The only confirmed large stable bodies of extraterrestrial surface liquids are the lakes of Titan, although there is evidence for the existence of oceans elsewhere in the Solar System. Early in their geologic histories, Mars and Venus are theorized to have had large water oceans. The Mars ocean hypothesis suggests that nearly a third of the surface of Mars was once covered by water, though the water on Mars is no longer oceanic, and a runaway greenhouse effect may have boiled away the global ocean of Venus. Compounds such as salts and ammonia dissolved in water lower its freezing point, so that water might exist in large quantities in extraterrestrial environments as brine or convecting ice. Unconfirmed oceans are speculated beneath the surface of many dwarf planets and natural satellites; notably, the ocean of Europa is believed to have over twice the water volume of Earth. The Solar System's gas giant planets are also believed to possess liquid atmospheric layers of yet to be confirmed compositions. Oceans may also exist on exoplanets and exomoons, including surface oceans of liquid water within a circumstellar habitable zone. Ocean planets are a hypothetical type of planet with a surface completely covered with liquid.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.