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  • Writer's pictureAryan Shah

Mars is more important than our oceans

Stephen Hawking once said to look up at the stars and not at our feet, but I beg to differ.

Mars is a rock, a culmination of rocks in space that has formed over time.

Earth is a rock, a culmination of rocks in space that has formed over time. The same right? Ah! There's a slight difference though. One of these rocks has large bodies of water and the other doesn't. Can you guess which one it is?

Well you'd be forgiven if you couldn't guess which one out of the two has oceans, because right now, everybody is so focused on extra-terrestrial life and commercial space flight that we have forgotten about our own Earth.

If you think about it for a minute, the ocean is a very scary, dark, 'shark-infested' place for most people

but for some who appreciate its value and what it holds for us in the future, life is just an opportunity to convey this message to everybody around us.

One organisation trying to do this and succeeding so far, is the Nippon Foundation-Gebco Seabed 2030 project. They aim to produce a definitive map of the ocean floor and make it available to all, resulting in numerous ecological, social and economical benefits. So far, they have successfully mapped 14.5 million km^2 of the ocean floor and this keeps rising every day.

What is the point of mapping the ocean floor you ask?

Our seas, more than ever are threatened by pollution, overfishing and climate change, and not just the water, it affects the ecosystems within them too.

My chat with Dr. Helen Snaith

I was lucky enough to speak to Dr. Helen Snaith who is the Global Data Centre Head of the Nippon Foundation-Gebco Seabed 2030 Project and also a Senior Data Scientist at the British Oceanographic Data Centre, within the UK National Oceanography Centre (NOC).

I asked her what she thought the biggest outcome of mapping the seafloor by 2030 would be and she said that, in her personal opinion, it would "give us an opportunity to better understand the natural processes we see in the oceans".

Natural processes such as Ocean currents and the global circulation model need to be understood, especially "how the deep ocean currents are controlled and directed". This is because they hold the key to how the various animal populations are "distributed by these currents, and how they transport chemicals such as Carbon around the oceans".

More, Dr. Snaith agreed that "without an accurate knowledge of the seafloor shape, we cannot create highly accurate numerical models of the oceans to predict how they function".

With the numerical models, we can utilise these to extrapolate (to a small extent) into the future to give us a hint into how the oceans will react to an ever-changing climate; we can only do this if we have a solid understanding of the pre-Holocene Earth and its marine topology. Therefore, mapping the seafloor right now will allow us to predict the condition of the sea later on in this epoch based on our pre-existing knowledge of such climatic conditions. So, in summary, using our information of the past coupled with the mapping of today we will help predict the future. Ooh, TIME TRAVEL!

Once we have mapped the seafloor, we will be able to better "conduct targeted, more-detailed exploration using tools" such as autonomous or manned vehicles without damaging the marine ecosystems like we have in the past. We can then, with a fine-tuned understanding, reduce the impacts of natural hazards such as coastal floods to a larger extent than in the past.

So, there are Paleoceanographic and Anthropogenic benefits of mapping the seafloor.

With a beautiful map, we can find ways to monitor the condition of our submarine world in a sustainable manner.

We can begin to increase public awareness of coastal and fluvial issues we are faced with today which can potentially reduce the vulnerability factors that contribute to a country's preparedness towards such hazards.

Some economic impacts include the increase of developmental status of vulnerable countries such as Bangladesh who are one of the most vulnerable countries in the world. If we manage to improve their preparedness towards a certain hazard, then less of their governments' funds are wasted on damaged coastal defences and aftermath recovery, allowing them to use that budget towards other essentials such as infrastructure, water supply, education and hygiene. This increases developmental status and eventually a more satisfied population.

This is one way we can progress as a planet, by working together to solve one of many problems affecting us in the present day. Hundreds of thousands of people lose their lives to a lack of preparation for natural hazards (in which perception of risk plays a big part) so if we reduce this and alter people's perception of hazards, death rate is reduced and we can all be as happy as Larry.

a theory of mine

As, Dr. Snaith said, it is important to map the seafloor to see "how the deep ocean currents are controlled and directed".

This resonated with me, as I recently read a research paper from 2008 by Misumi et al from the Hokkaido University, Japan. In this paper, they conduct simulations for the mid-Cretaceous using oceanic, atmospheric and biogeochemical 'general circulation models'. They found that as the concentration of Phosphate (PO4) increases in the ocean, and as the thermohaline circulation becomes inactive, this correlates to an induction in a global scale Ocean Anoxia Event (OAE).

What this says to me, is that by taking into account the circulation of chemicals in the ocean and how this is achieved, you can gain a significant understanding and formulate a model of OAE's. We can "create highly accurate numerical models of the oceans to predict how they function"; what I think we can do, is utilise our map of the seafloor (in 2030) and then use previous and existing information about how ocean currents work to predict the next OAE.

The good thing here, is that we have a wealth of prehistoric data and geological evidence to back up any theory or numerical model we come up with. It won't have just come out of thin air...

Qocean = Q2 (SST - T*)

'Qocean' is the surface flux temperature, 'Q2' is the coefficient, 'SST' is the sea surface temperature and 'T' is the atmospheric temperature. Despite the fact that this equation was published in 2008 (in the same paper), it is still very relevant.

This equation impacts the Ocean General Circulation model quite significantly, as Qocean is actually the 'exchange of heat, per unit area, crossing the surface between the ocean and the atmosphere', implying that it contributes greatly to the transfer of heat through the water, in the medium of the Thermohaline circulation.

The Thermohaline circulation is a part of the 'large-scale ocean circulation that is driven by global density gradients created by surface heat and freshwater fluxes'. Therefore, by using this equation, you can get an idea of the activity of the THC and therefore to what extent the next OAE will occur.

One further point to add, is that the 'T' in the equation represents the atmospheric temperature. We all know how high the temperature of our atmosphere is relative to decades and centuries ago, so what if we plot this data graphically and extrapolate what the temperature would look like in a few centuries or millennials. Maybe this could be entered into this (or even a modified version) equation to extrapolate the next OAE?

The key word here is extrapolate, because we cannot be certain as to when another OAE would happen, however, in this age of technological advancement and accuracy in scientific research, the margin of error would be much lower than in previous years if we were to calculate this.

Dr. Snaith's biggest fear for the ocean is that "we will destroy the life in the ocean with plastic pollution before we even really understand what is there". Too many people are using the ocean as a dumping ground and it needs to be treated with respect, because not only does it affect our climate, but it provides food for millions of people on the coastal regions of the Earth. At the current rate of overfishing, we will have lost our fish supply by 2050.

That is 30 years from now. 30 years!

I want you to think about this for a moment.

It is unacceptable and this needs to be changed. The only way to do this right now is to better understand our seas so we can help this planet's inhabitants survive.

Stephen Hawking said we should look up to the stars and not at our feet, but I beg to differ.


Dr. Helen Snaith - Senior Data Scientist at the British Oceanographic Data Centre, within the UK National Oceanography Centre (NOC), with primary responsibility for high-volume data management strategy and delivery of external contracts. She also has a remit for development of new products and services in support of oceanographic research.

Kazuhiro Misumi, Yasuhiro Yamanaka,

Ocean anoxic events in the mid-Cretaceous simulated by a 3-D biogeochemical general circulation model,

Cretaceous Research,

Volume 29, Issues 5–6,


Pages 893-900,

ISSN 0195-6671,

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