Draining the World’s Oceans to Visualize Earth’s Surface
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Draining the World’s Oceans to Visualize Earth’s Surface

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Draining the World’s Oceans to Visualize Earth’s Surface

Although many maps of our planet go into great topographical detail on land, almost two-thirds of the Earth’s surface is covered by the world’s oceans.

Hidden from sight lie aquatic mountain ranges, continental shelves, and trenches that dive deep into the Earth’s crust. We might be familiar with a few of the well-known formations on the ocean floor, but there’s a whole detailed “world” that’s as rich as the surface, just waiting to be explored.

This animation from planetary researcher James O’Donoghue of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NASA simulates the draining the world’s oceans to quickly reveal the full extent of the Earth’s surface.

How Deep Does the Ocean Go?

Above sea level, Earth’s topography reaches all the way up to 8,849 meters (29,032 ft) to the top of Mt. Everest. But going below sea level, it actually goes deeper than the height of Everest.

Open ocean is called the pelagic zone, which can be broken down into five regions by depth:

  • 0m–200m: Epipelagic (sunlight zone). Illuminated shallower waters that contain most of the ocean’s plants and animals.
  • 200m–1,000m: Mesopelagic (twilight zone). Stretches from where 1% of surface light reaches to where surface light ends. Contains mainly bacteria, as well as some large organisms like the swordfish and the squid.
  • 1,000m–4,000m: Bathypelagic (midnight zone). Pitch black outside of a few bioluminescent organisms, with no living plants. Smaller anglerfish, squid, and sharks live here, as well as a few large organisms like giant squid.
  • 4,000m–6,000m: Abyssopelagic (abyssal zone). Long thought to be the bottomless end of the sea, the abyssal zone reaches to just above the ocean floor and contains little life due to extremely cold temperatures, high pressures, and complete darkness.
  • 6,000m–11,000m: Hadopelagic (hadal zone). Named after Hades, the Greek god of the underworld, the hadal zone is the deepest part of the ocean. It can be found primarily in trenches below the ocean floor.
  • To put ocean depths into context, the bottom of the ocean is more than 2,000m greater than the peak of Mount Everest.

    What “Draining” the World’s Oceans Reveals

    For a long time, the ocean floor was believed to be less understood than the Moon.

    The sheer depth of water made it difficult to map without newer technology, and the tremendous pressure and extreme temperatures make navigation grueling. A manned vehicle reached the deepest known point of the Mariana Trench—the Challenger Deep—in 1960, almost 90 years after it was first charted in 1872.

    But over the last few decades, humanity’s understanding and exploration of the ocean floor has grown in leaps and bounds. O’Donoghue’s animation shows just how much detail we’ve been missing.

    The first easily noticeable characteristic is the Earth’s continental shelves, which appear quickly. Most are visible by 140 meters, though the Arctic and Antarctic shelves are far deeper.

    The animation then speeds up, as thousands of meters of depth reveal the tops of small mountain ridges and aquatic islands. From 2,000 to 3,000 meters, mid-ocean ridges appear that span the length of the Arctic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.

    From 3,000 to 6,000 meters of ocean drained, these aquatic mountains slowly give way to the vast majority of the ocean floor. Little changes over the final 5,000 meters except to illustrate just how deep the ocean’s trenches reach.

    Of course, technically the bottom of the Challenger deep is the deepest known point of the Mariana Trench. As satellite and imaging technology improves further, and aquatic mapping voyages become more possible, who knows what else we’ll discover beneath the waves.

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    This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

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Timeline: The Most Important Science Headlines of 2022

Join us as we look back at some of the most exciting, inspiring, and biggest science stories that made headlines in 2022.

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Scientific Headlines of 2022

Scientific discoveries and technological innovation play a vital role in addressing many of the challenges and crises that we face every year.

The last year may have come and gone quickly, but scientists and researchers have worked painstakingly hard to advance our knowledge within a number of disciplines, industries, and projects around the world.

Over the course of 2022, it’s easy to lose track of all the amazing stories in science and technology.

At a Glance: Major Scientific Headlines of 2022

Below we dive a little deeper into some of the most interesting headlines, while providing links in case you want to explore these developments further.

January 2022

The James Webb Space Telescope Arrives at its Destination

What happened: A new space telescope brings promise of exciting findings and beautiful images from the final frontier. This telescope builds on the legacy of its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, which launched over 30 years ago.

Why it matters: The James Webb Space Telescope is our latest state-of-the-art “window” into deep space. With more access to the infrared spectrum, new images, measurements, and observations of outer space will become available.

» To learn more, read this article from The Planetary Society, or watch this video from the Wall Street Journal.

April 2022

Complete: The Human Genome

What happened: Scientists finish sequencing the human genome.

Why it matters: A complete human genome allows researchers to better understand the genetic basis of human traits and diseases. New therapies and treatments are likely to arise from this development.

» To learn more, watch this video by Two Minute Papers, or read this article from NIH

May 2022

Monkeypox Breaks Out

What happened: A higher volume of cases of the monkeypox virus was reported in non-endemic countries.

Why it matters: Trailing in the shadow of a global pandemic, researchers are keeping a closer eye on how diseases spread. The sudden spike of multinational incidences of monkeypox raises questions about disease evolution and prevention.

» To learn more, read this article by the New York Times.

June 2022

A Perfectly Preserved Woolly Mammoth

What happened: Gold miners unearth a 35,000 year old, well-preserved baby woolly mammoth in the Yukon tundra.

Why it matters: The mammoth, named Nun cho ga by the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation, is the most complete specimen discovered in North America to date. Each new discovery allows paleontologists to broaden our knowledge of biodiversity and how life changes over time.

» To learn more, read this article from Smithsonian Magazine

July 2022

The Rise of AI Art

What happened: Access to new computer programs, such as DALL-E and Midjourney, give members of the general public the ability to create images from text-prompts.

Why it matters: Widespread access to generative AI tools fuels inspiration—and controversy. Concern for artist rights and copyright violations grow as these programs potentially threaten to diminish creative labor.

» To learn more, read this article by MyModernMet, or watch this video by Cleo Abram.

August 2022

Dead Organs Get a Second Chance

What happened: Researchers create a perfusion system that can revitalize organs after cellular death. Using a special mixture of blood and nutrients, organs of a dead pig can be sustained after death—and in some cases, even promote cellular repair.

Why it matters: This discovery could potentially lead to a greater shelf-life and supply of organs for transplant.

» To learn more, read this article by Scientific American, or this article from the New York Times

September 2022

DART Delivers A Cosmic Nudge

What happened: NASA crashes a spacecraft into an asteroid just to see how much it would move. Dimorphos, a moonlet orbiting a larger asteroid called Didymos 6.8 million miles (11 million km) from Earth, is struck by the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) spacecraft. NASA estimates that as much as 22 million pounds (10 million kg) was ejected after the impact.

Why it matters: Earth is constantly at risk of being struck by stray asteroids. Developing reliable methods of deflecting near-Earth objects could save us from meeting the same fate as the dinosaurs.

» To learn more, watch this video by Real Engineering, or read this article from Space.com

November 2022

Falling Sperm Counts

What happened: A scientific review suggests human sperm counts are decreasing—up to 62% over the past 50 years.

Why it matters: A lower sperm count makes it more difficult to conceive naturally. Concerns about global declining male health also arise because sperm count is a marker for overall health. Researchers look to extraneous stressors that may be affecting this trend, such as diet, environment, or other means.

» To learn more, check out this article from the Guardian.

December 2022

Finding Ancient DNA

What happened: Two million-year-old DNA is found in Greenland.

Why it matters: DNA is a record of biodiversity. Apart from showing that a desolate Arctic landscape was once teeming with life, ancient DNA gives hints about our advancement to modern life and how biodiversity evolves over time.

» To learn more, read this article from National Geographic

December 2022

Fusing Energy

What happened: The U.S. Department of Energy reports achieving net energy gain for the first time in the development of nuclear fusion.

Why it matters: Fusion is often seen as the Holy Grail of safe clean energy, and this latest milestone brings researchers one step closer to harnessing nuclear fusion to power the world.

» To learn more, view our infographic on fusion, or read this article from BBC

Science in the New Year

The future of scientific research looks bright. Researchers and scientists are continuing to push the boundaries of what we know and understand about the world around us.

For 2023, some disciplines are likely to continue to dominate headlines:

  • Advancement in space continues with projects like the James Webb Space Telescope and SETI COSMIC’s hunt for life beyond Earth
  • Climate action may become more demanding as recovery and prevention from extreme weather events continue into the new year
  • Generative AI tools such as DALL-e and ChatGPT were opened to public use in 2022, and ignited widespread interest in the potential of artificial intelligence
  • Even amidst the lingering shadow of COVID-19, new therapeutics should advance medicine into new territories

Where science is going remains to be seen, but this past year instills faith that 2023 will be filled with even more progress.

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