How Much of the Ocean Have We Explored?

swimming jellyfish

The ocean is so vital to the earth’s existence. It takes up more than 70% of the earth’s surface. It controls the weather and provides support for living organisms. It’s a source of inspiration to people everywhere.

That’s why it may be hard to believe that over 80% of the ocean is unexplored.

There are primarily two types of research technology used to map and observe the ocean. The first is underwater vehicles, which are robotic vehicles that can drift, drive, and glide through water without human control. However, because these vehicles are so costly and difficult to operate, sonar is a favored method.

Sonar technology employs acoustics to determine and detect the distance and direction of underwater objects using sonar apparatus. Sound waves emitted by the object are analyzed for information. While sonar is a viable option, it has been used to map less than 10% of ocean bodies globally and less than 35% in the United States.

Why Ocean Exploration is So Important?

The ocean plays a critical role in the survival of our planet and species. We explore the ocean to make unexpected discoveries, finding data that pertains to the biological, physical, chemical, geological, and archaeological aspects of the Earth which can be used in future research. This helps scientists make sure that the ocean’s resources are being sustainably managed.

It also includes exploration of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, the zone where the U.S. and other coastal nations have jurisdiction over natural resources. This is vital to national security allowing the country to set boundaries and protect American natural resource interests.

Ocean exploration also provides insight on new sources for medical therapies, vaccines, food energy, and inventions that mimic the functions of deep-sea animals. It helps us get a better understanding of environmental changes. It allows researchers to comprehend the causes and implications of natural disasters such as tsunamis and hurricanes.  

Although exploring the ocean presents its share of challenges, it motivates scientists to come up with new technologies that can be applied in other situations such as an ocean crisis, like an oil spill. It can boost ocean literacy and inspire people to pursue careers in oceanography and other scientific fields.

What is Being Done

Ocean exploration is an issue that needs to be addressed, but efforts are being made to push it forwards.

NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research is supporting expeditions to investigate and document previously unexplored underwater regions. These are being led by scientist-explorers who are equipped with state-of-the-art exploration tools.

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is also doing its part. The organization employs hydrographic surveys to generate and maintain charts of U.S. coastal waters and Great Lakes as well as the waters surrounding U.S. territories. The data is used to update nautical charts and develop hydrographic models that are essential in the navigation of the nation’s waterways.

Ocean exploration can provide us with insight on so many of the earth’s functions. Limited resources have made it difficult to make breakthroughs in the field, but with continued efforts being made, it is hopeful that we will continue to glean valuable information that moves progress forward.