One fact of the world is that the deep sea is the largest habitat on the planet taking up to 95 percent of the Earth’s living space. Yet, it’s also the most unexplored environment despite being one of the most amazing and beautiful places in the world. From this post, you’ll learn lots of amazing new things about the deep sea. So, let’s go and find out the facts about the deep sea.
Nobody knows where it begins
The deep sea is a questioned term lacking a single particular definition. Some refer it as any part of the ocean where scary odd and downright bizarre creatures live. For others, it’s a descriptive definition of specific ocean depth. Some claim it to begin at the edge of the continental shelf where sunlight typically starts to fade, a depth of usually around 200 meters. Others, such as the World Register of Deep Sea Species, instead, regard it as any point at which seasonal variations in physical parameters such as temperature becomes minimal. This means that the deep sea is usually anywhere below 500 meters. However, as the average ocean depth is around 4,000 meters, others would argue that the deepest depths are below 1,000 fathoms or 1828 meters.
You can see from this diagram that at this depth as temperatures come close to freezing and little or no sunlight is present for photosynthesis, very few creatures can exist using light pressure and thermal interfaces.
Oceanographers have divided the ocean into five distinct layers. These layers vary depending on the area and clarity of the water as each zone is distinguished by its unique characteristics.
Deep-sea creatures are purposefully incredibly diverse
Species from the deep may look like they’ve evolved in strange ways just to freak us out. But in fact, they’ve evolved that way for specific survival purposes. For instance, to take advantage of the lack of light most animals are transparent or red, a color which few creatures can detect and is camouflaging in the darkness. For those in the shallow deep sea, enormous eyes take advantage of what sunlight exists and bioluminescence. It is a chemical reaction that allows animals to create light. It is thought to be a way of counter illuminating faint sunlight from above, so that fishes are invisible to predators below them, given the amount of water above them.
Pressure is another element, creatures from the deep must deal with. It’s enough to distort the complex molecules, membranes and proteins upon which all life depends. That is why the deepest sea creatures are often gelatinous with very minimal bone structures. Again to survive in the cold waters which can go below zero due to the salt in the water, many creatures carry highly unsaturated fats in their cell walls. This helps them to maintain the membrane fluidity in freezing cold depths of the ocean number.
Exploring the deep is tremendously testing
It is an obvious fact about deep sea but one you probably haven’t seriously thought about. Part of the reason, why it’s taken us so long to explore is because only recently we have created new generations of incredibly sophisticated underwater vehicles that can venture so deep. Some of the many submersibles we’ve created are still often defeated by the waters crippling pressure. Even the most advanced research vehicle in operation in 2014 imploded whilst in operation. At the time it was crushed under 10,000 meters of water. Scientists estimated that there were about 16,000 pounds per square inch of pressure on the craft. To prevent crafts from imploding, submersibles must be internally pressurized to equal the pressure exerted from the outside.
So, it’s fair to say that these machines are pretty amazingly engineered. Not only must deep-sea researchers battle with some of the toughest elements, but they must also cope with the issue of being seriously underfunded. Space exploration dollars seriously dwarf ocean spending as seen by this graphic from US fiscal spending in 2013.
Only a few people have ever been to the deep sea
Due to the previously mentioned extremities, the deep sea may be the final frontier of exploration. Many more people have been into space than to the deep sea. Only a few people have ever ventured over 1,000 fathoms into the depths of our ocean. The first two people to venture this deep really outdid themselves and descended to the bottom of the deepest known part of the Earth’s seabed in 1960. They descended into what’s known as the challenger’s deep which is a relatively small slot-shaped depression in the Pacific Ocean. This slot is unusually deep, known as the Mariana trench.
The third person to venture into the deep sea went there in 2012 and first showed enthusiasm for the deep by directing and producing movies including the abyss and Titanic. James Cameron unsatisfied with the lack of deep-sea exploration, spent a reported ten million dollars to fund the construction of his deep-sea challenger vessel. He descended to over 11 kilometers where he spent three hours, collecting scientific data, specimens, and visions unthinkable in 1960.
New species are being discovered daily
Since, it’s largely unexplored, each time a vehicle is sent into the deep sea. It’s highly likely to unearth a new discovery. Over a recent year-long period, the World Register of Marine Species reported discovering 1451 new marine species of which many were found to be from the deep sea. That means on top of the 240,000 marine species already recorded. Roughly four new species are found daily which is astonishing, considering that over a decade ago. Many scientists assumed this to be the upper limit. Revised estimates based on the current rate of discovery suggest that we only currently know about a quarter of ocean species in existence.
Although many scientists think we know even less than this. Considering that most of those are species of the deep of which the World Register of Deep Sea Creatures has only recorded twenty thousand so far, there are many crazier species, we’re yet to find the number.
It's a giant playground
The term deep-sea gigantism exists in zoology for a reason. It refers to the tendency for deep-sea dwelling animals to be larger than their shallow-water relatives. We’re not sure whether it comes about as a result of adaptation for scarce resources, greater pressure, or other reasons. However, in the case of marine crustaceans, it’s been proposed that trends involve increasing size and age with decreasing environmental temperature.
Here are a few examples of this phenomenon: the giant isopod, the giant amphipod, the Japanese spider crab, and a giant squid. Just imagine what other Giants lurk in the depth. It’s a scary thought when you consider how little we have explored the deep-sea.
Some amazing ecosystems exist on the ocean floor
In 1977, a deep-sea research expedition made history as they found hydrothermal vents releasing mineral-rich water at the bottom of the ocean. This discovery changed our understanding of the world as we know it. Because up to that point, we thought that all life depended on sunlight for photosynthesis to survive. But related to vents, there is so much to find. Today they continued to be found in areas of known volcanic activity across the ocean where water is heated by hot magma through vents that crack deep into the Earth’s layers. These vents make an entirely new ecosystem possible, one thriving with giant tubeworms over a foot long as well as many other life forms.
Moreover, the organisms are often grouped around structures, releasing plumes of superheated water packed with chemicals. Though toxic to humans, the chemicals provide nutrients that certain bacteria can convert to energy, much like plants convert sunlight during photosynthesis. This process of converting chemicals into energy is known as chemosynthesis and redefined science as we know it.
Geothermal vents aren't the only thriving ecosystems on the ocean floor
Lush deep water coral gardens of various sizes colors and shapes can survive in the icy cold and extremely dim waters of up to six thousand meters below the surface of the ocean. In fact, scientists have found nearly as many species of deep-sea corals as shallow-water species. Shallow-water corals require sunlight but deep-sea corals don’t. Instead, they take the nutrients and energy for survival by trapping small organisms in passing currents.
Within the last 2 decades, scientists helped by technological developments have revealed one astonishment after another about deep-sea corals. And, so far over 3,300 species of deep-sea corals have been known. Though the numbers keep climbing, they’re incredibly diverse and also amazingly old with the sun. Such as black holes, estimated to be between 4000 to 8500 years old or more, making them the oldest continuously living marine organisms on record. On top of that, some grow into beautiful structures that rise to 35 meters high. These corals along with other habitats forming organisms such as ocean sponges, protect from currents and predators, acting as nurseries for young fish.
The deep sea may solve many of our problems
Such organisms that live in the deep sea coral habitats and the deep sea in general produce chemicals with enormous potential for future medicinal or commercial products, such as pharmaceuticals enzymes, pesticides, or cosmetics. For example, scientists recently discovered that some sponges growing in deep-sea coral ecosystems, essentially produce antibiotics because they have compounds with anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. Even more astonishingly, a compound from one deep sea sponge even produces a chemical that prevents cancer cells from dividing and spreading along with anti-cancer agents. Moreover, some coral species contain pain-killing compounds. And even sea fans contain high concentrations of prostaglandins which is a compound used to treat asthma and heart disease. Who knows what other potential life-saving compounds lie within coral reefs deep below the ocean’s surface.
The seafloor is a barren land
Put all your thoughts of geothermal vents and deep-sea coral reefs aside because the vast majority of the seafloor is featureless mud. On the face of it, it’s quite similar to the unoccupied areas of outer space. However, in space, you can see everything using telescopes. Here, in the deep oceans visibility is low. It is less than 100 feet. Furthermore, travel speed is very slow. Below is a pretty normal view of the ocean floor from a subsea robot.
The bottom line- Facts about deep sea
So, these were some amazing facts about the deep sea. The most interesting thing about this environment is the creatures we’re yet to discover but do you think we’ll find more exotic alien life in a deep sea than up in space.
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