In the battle for mind-share, space vs. sea is no contest.
From the epic race to reach the surface of the moon, to the well-documented trials and tribulations of SpaceX’s rocket launches, space is widely regarded as mankind’s natural next step.
For centuries, we’ve gazed at the night sky attempting to decode the messages of the cosmos, but we’ve treated the ocean as a dumping ground or as a nemesis. In the era of big data, it’s strange to note that an estimated 95% of the world’s oceans still remain unexplored.
A Deep Dive Into the World’s Oceans
Today’s video, from Tech Insider, helps shed some light on just how deep the ocean is, and put that depth into a context us surface-dwellers can understand.
The ocean is vast, but looking at it in terms of light and food supply allows us to better understand the structure of that ecosystem.
There are five main oceanic divisions:
|Ocean Zone||Depth (m)||Depth (ft)|
|epipelagic||Surface to 200 m||Surface to 650 ft|
|mesopelagic||200 to 1,000 m||650 to 3,300 ft|
|bathypelagic||1,000 to 4000 m||3,300 to 13,000 ft|
|abyssopelagic||4,000 to 6,000 m||13,000 to 20,000 ft|
|hadopelagic||6,000 to 11,000 m||20,000 to 36,000 ft|
Let’s take a look at each layer in more detail.
Scratching the Surface
The surface layer of the ocean, or epipelagic zone, is the portion we’re most familiar with. This portion of the ocean is amply lit by the sun, and though it’s the smallest zone by volume, it contains much of the ocean’s life. In fact, the phytoplankton living at this level produce half of the world’s oxygen.
One of the chief concerns about climate change is that acidification and temperature changes may dramatically influence levels of phytoplankton in the ocean, thus putting Earth’s largest source of oxygen in jeopardy.
Due to its proximity to sunlight, this layer of the ocean is the fuel that feeds the rest of the ocean. As organisms die, they begin to sink to the lower depths in the form of “marine snow”. This is vital since plant life cannot survive beyond this thin, top layer of water. Put simply, the epipelagic zone feeds the rest of the ocean.
The Twilight Zone
The next layer, called the mesopelagic zone, begins 200m below the surface and extends down to the 1km level. At this point, sunlight illuminating the water begins to wane and water pressure already begins to push beyond what the human body can tolerate.
This dimly lit zone is where we begin to see evolutionary adaptations such as bioluminescence. Large fish and whales also enter this zone to hunt for food.
Hello Darkness, My Old Friend
At 1km below the surface – in the bathypelagic zone – sunlight has faded completely and the ocean is nearly pitch black. This region accounts for 90% of the ocean’s volume and as the video below (via TEDed) explains, this is where things start to get really weird.
The aptly named abyssopelagic zone, begins at 4,000 meters below the surface and extends down to 6,000 meters (or the ocean floor). At this level, the water temperature is nearly at freezing level, and because no sunlight reaches this zone, many of the animals that live here are sightless. The Abyss is the largest zone in the ocean, accounting for about 75% of the ocean floor and 54% of the ocean’s volume.
This region of the ocean is the home of the Abyssal plains. The plains are the upper surface of sediment that has accumulated in abyssal depressions, smoothing out what would otherwise by irregular topography. By this depth the consistent flow of marine snow has decreased dramatically, so organisms depend on occasional “feasts” to survive. Occasionally, events such as large algae blooms near the surface end up delivering huge amounts of food to the ocean floor once those blooms die off.
Abyssal plains could eventually become a big deal economically due to hydrocarbon exploration and mineral extraction. An example of the latter is polymetallic nodules. These potato-sized concretions are scattered around the seafloor at depths greater than 4,000 meters. If it becomes economically viable to harvest these nodules (comprised of manganese, iron, nickel, cobalt, and copper), companies could generate considerable revenue. Currently, there are eight commercial contractors licensed by the International Seabed Authority to explore the extraction of nodule resources.
Earth’s Final Frontier
The hadopelagic zone comprises less than 1% of ocean volume and 0.2% of the seafloor, but looms large as one of Earth’s least understood ecosystems. In fact, more humans have been on the moon than have visited this area of the ocean, and most of this zone only exists within deep water trenches and canyons that extend well beyond the Abyssal plains. There are 33 “hadal trenches” and five of them exceed 10,000 meters – including the world’s deepest oceanic point, the Mariana Trench.
The water pressure here can reach a mind-bending eight tons per square inch, but in spite of the extreme pressure, lack of food, and near-freezing temperatures, life can still be found. Most of the creatures that inhabit the hadal zone are literally bottom feeders; they eat the very last bits of marine snow that reach the trench floor.
While nearly all organisms on Earth derive energy either directly or indirectly from the sun, certain organisms have adapted to survive by using hydrothermal vents as an energy source. Many of the creatures living around vents contain symbiotic bacteria, which subsist off hydrogen sulphide emissions. This unique ecosystem provides clues for how life could exist on other planets with more extreme ecosystems.
Mapped: Visualizing the True Size of Africa
Common map projections warp our view of the globe. This graphic reveals the true size of Africa, which could fit the U.S., China, India, and more.
Mapped: The True Size of Africa
Take a look at any map, and it’s clear that the African continent is a big place.
However, despite the common perception that Africa is a large landmass, it’s still one that is vastly underestimated by most casual map viewers.
The reason for this is that the familiar Mercator map projection tends to distort our geographical view of the world in a crucial way — one that often leads to misconceptions about the relative sizes of both countries and continents.
A Geographical Jigsaw
Today’s infographic comes from Kai Krause and it shows the true size of Africa, as revealed by the borders of the countries that can fit within the continent’s shape.
The African continent has a land area of 30.37 million sq km (11.7 million sq mi) — enough to fit in the U.S., China, India, Japan, Mexico, and many European nations, combined.
|Country||Land Area (sq. km)||Land Area (sq. mi)||% of Africa|
|Total||30.33 million sq. km||11.71 million sq. mi||99.9%|
|🇺🇸 United States||9.83 million||3.80 million||32.4%|
|🇨🇳 China||9.60 million||3.71 million||31.6%|
|🇮🇳 India||3.29 million||1.27 million||10.8%|
|🇲🇽 Mexico||1.96 million||0.76 million||6.5%|
|🇵🇪 Peru||1.29 million||0.50 million||4.2%|
|🇫🇷 France||0.64 million||0.25 million||2.1%|
|🇪🇸 Spain||0.51 million||0.20 million||1.7%|
|🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea||0.46 million||0.18 million||1.5%|
|🇸🇪 Sweden||0.45 million||0.17 million||1.5%|
|🇯🇵 Japan||0.38 million||0.15 million||1.3%|
|🇩🇪 Germany||0.36 million||0.14 million||1.2%|
|🇳🇴 Norway||0.32 million||0.13 million||1.1%|
|🇮🇹 Italy||0.30 million||0.12 million||1.0%|
|🇳🇿 New Zealand||0.27 million||0.10 million||0.9%|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||0.24 million||0.09 million||0.8%|
|🇳🇵 Nepal||0.15 million||0.06 million||0.5%|
|🇧🇩 Bangladesh||0.15 million||0.06 million||0.5%|
|🇬🇷 Greece||0.13 million||0.05 million||0.4%|
You could add together all of the landmasses above and they would not equate to the geographical footprint of Africa, which itself is home to 54 countries and 1.2 billion people.
Editor’s note: The above table is slightly different from the countries shown in the visualization, which focuses more on fitting recognizable country shapes into the geographical shape of Africa.
Why the Misconception?
Interestingly, the problem with maps is not that Africa is sized incorrectly.
Using the animation below, you’ll see that Africa is actually the most accurately sized continent using the common Mercator map projection:
The Mercator projection attempts to place the spherical shape of the world onto a cylinder, causing areas closest to the poles to be “stretched”.
Africa, which straddles the Equator, barely changes in size — meanwhile, the countries furthest from the Equator become inflated from their true sizes on this type of map.
For those of us living in Western countries, this is an interesting dilemma to consider.
This means that the sizes of European and North American countries are distorted, giving us an inaccurate mental “measuring stick” for judging the relative sizes of other countries.
This has implications not only for Africa, but for the whole Southern Hemisphere: South America, India, the Middle East, and even Australia are “bigger” than they may initially appear on a map.
Ranked: The 100 Most Spoken Languages Around the World
This detailed visualization breaks down the 100 most spoken languages around the world, by total and native speakers. Can you find yours on the list?
Ranked: The 100 Most Spoken Languages Worldwide
Even though you’re reading this article in English, there’s a good chance it might not be your mother tongue. Of the billion-strong English speakers in the world, only 33% consider it their native language.
The popularity of a language depends greatly on utility and geographic location. Additionally, how we measure the spread of world languages can vary greatly depending on whether you look at total speakers or native speakers.
Today’s detailed visualization from WordTips illustrates the 100 most spoken languages in the world, the number of native speakers for each language, and the origin tree that each language has branched out from.
How Do You Define A Language?
The data comes from the 22nd edition of Ethnologue, a database covering a majority of the world’s population, detailing approximately 7,111 living languages in existence today.
The definitions of languages are often dynamic, blurring the lines around a singular understanding of what makes a language:
- Linguistic: focused on lexical and grammatical differences, or on variations within speech communities
- Social: focused on cultural or political factors, as well as heritage and identity
For the purposes of measurement, the researchers use the ISO 693-3 set of criteria, which accounts for related varieties and dialects—ensuring that linguistics are not the only factor considered in this count of languages.
Here are the language origins of the 100 most spoken languages:
Indo-European languages have the widest spread worldwide. According to Ethnologue, the language family contains over 3 billion speakers in total. Interestingly, there are actually 1,526 Niger-Congo languages altogether, though only 12 are represented here.
Let’s now dive into the top 10 most spoken languages overall.
Which Languages Have the Most Speakers?
It comes as no surprise that English reigns supreme, with over 1.1 billion total speakers—or roughly 15% of the global population. Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, and French round out the top five.
|Rank||Language||Total Speakers||Language Origin|
|2||Mandarin Chinese||1,117 million||Sino-Tibetan|
|6||Standard Arabic||274 million||Afro-Asiatic|
However, this is only one piece in the full fabric of languages.
The metrics for native speakers tell a slightly different tale, as Mandarin Chinese shoots up to 918 million—almost 2.5x that of English native speakers.
|Rank||Language||Native Speakers||Language Origin|
|1||Mandarin Chinese||918 million||Sino-Tibetan|
|9||Western Punjabi||93 million||Indo-European|
Note: No native speaker data was available for Filipino, Standard Arabic, Nigerian Pidgin, or Cameroonian Pidgin.
Here, Spanish comes in strong second for native speakers with 460 million, considering it’s well-used across Latin America. The Indian languages of Hindi and Bengali cap off the top five by native speakers as well.
These are the biggest languages people learn growing up, but what about the ones they pick up later in life?
What About Second (L2) Languages?
Nearly 43% of the world’s population is bilingual, with the ability to switch between two languages with ease.
From the data, second language (L2) speakers can be calculated by looking at the difference between native and total speakers, as a proportion of the total. For example, 66% of English speakers learned it as a second language.
Swahili surprisingly has the highest ratio of L2 speakers to total speakers—although it only has 16 million native speakers, this shoots up to 98 million total speakers. Overall, 82% of Swahili speakers know it as a second language.
Swahili is listed as a national or official language in several African countries: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s likely that the movement of people from rural areas into big cities in search of better economic opportunities, is what’s boosting the adoption of Swahili as a second language.
Indonesian is another similar example. With a 78% proportion of L2 speakers compared to total speakers, this variation on the Malay language has been used as the lingua franca across the islands for a long time. In contrast, only 17% of Mandarin speakers know it as a second language, perhaps because it is one of the most challenging languages to learn.
Keeping Language Traditions Alive
Languages are fluid, and constantly evolving—altogether, the 100 most spoken languages paint a unique picture across centuries of a changing world. Here’s the full list of these languages, by types of speakers and language origin.
|Rank||Language||Total Speakers||Native Speakers||Origin|
|26||Egyptian Spoken Arabic||65M||65M||Afro-Asiatic|
|33||Southern Min Chinese||50M||50M||Sino-Tibetan|
|45||Moroccan Spoken Arabic||33M||27M||Afro-Asiatic|
|48||Algerian Spoken Arabic||32M||29M||Afro-Asiatic|
|49||Sudanese Spoken Arabic||32M||32M||Afro-Asiatic|
|56||North Levantine Spoken Arabic||25M||25M||Afro-Asiatic|
|61||Sa'idi Spoken Arabic||22M||22M||Afro-Asiatic|
|74||Mesopotamian Spoken Arabic||16M||16M||Afro-Asiatic|
|78||Hijazi Spoken Arabic||15M||15M||Afro-Asiatic|
|98||South Levantine Spoken Arabic||12M||12M||Afro-Asiatic|
|99||Tunisian Spoken Arabic||12M||12M||Afro-Asiatic|
|100||Sanaani Spoken Arabic||11M||11M||Afro-Asiatic|
One reason these languages are popular is that they are actively and consistently used. Unfortunately, nearly 3,000 (about 40%) of all languages are at risk of being lost, or are already in the process of dying out today.
Languages play a crucial role in our daily lives. … [Their] losses have huge negative impacts indigenous peoples’ most basic human rights.
—UN, IYoIL statement
As a result, the United Nations declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYoIL), with a resolution to continue fostering these languages and pass on their knowledge for future generations.
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