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.
The Topography of Mars: Visualizing an Alien Landscape
What is the surface of the Red Planet like? This beautiful map helps to break down the topography of Mars in awesome detail.
The Topography of Mars: Visualizing an Alien Landscape
The surface of the Red Planet is full of surprises.
While the Grand Canyon and Mount Everest are both impressive features on Earth, they are nothing next to Valles Marineris and Olympus Mons, their epic Martian counterparts.
Even more extraordinary, the overall difference between the highest and lowest point on Mars is 19 miles (31 km), whereas just 12 miles (20 km) separates the summit of Mount Everest from the bottom of the Mariana Trench on Earth.
This week’s map comes to us from Reddit user /hellofromthemoon, who carefully laid out the terrain of Mars in awesome detail.
Take a look…
Lay of the Land
Mars can be divided into two major regions, separated by a ridge of mountains roughly around the planet’s middle.
On the north side are lowlands that have been shaped by lava flows, creating a surface dominated by large plains. Meanwhile, the southern hemisphere is mountainous, with many meteorite impact craters, some of which stretch for hundreds of kilometers.
The Plains Game
The plains of Mars fall into two categories: the planitia (Latin for “plains”) and the maria (Latin for “seas”). The latter type is named after the sea because these regions appeared to be under water in the eyes of early astronomers. But actually, the surfaces of these regions are covered with many rocks, making them look darker to the eye.
The second type of plains are the planitia, and they account for vast areas covered by sand rich in iron oxide. The strong winds that blow the sand and dust around can change the configuration of the plains, forming new patterns on the surface of Mars. However, the planet’s features remain relatively unchanged over time.
One of the largest plains is the Utopia Planitia (Latin for “Nowhere Land Plain”) impact basin. This giant impact crater lies within a larger lava plain. With an estimated diameter of 3,300 km, Utopia Planitia is the largest recognized impact basin in the solar system.
As Above, so Below
The northern and southern hemispheres are vastly different from one another on Mars, and such a stark difference is unlike any other planet in the solar system. Patterns of internal magma flow could have caused the variation, but some scientists think it is the result of Mars taking one or several major impacts.
About 4.5 billion years ago, Mars formed from the collection of rocks that circle the sun before they formed the planets. Over time, the red planet’s molten masses differentiated into a core, a mantle, and an outer crust.
Understanding how the red planet’s topography changes over time is a crucial step in grasping how the planet formed. That is why NASA launched the InSight Mars lander on May 5, 2019. This probe will listen for vibrations deep within the Martian crust to further understand the composition of the planet.
Understanding the topography of Mars is critical for any mission to the planet, including the selection of a site for a potential colony. There are three basic criteria for picking a manned mission landing site:
- A spot that is sustainable in terms of water, energy generation, and building materials.
- A spot that is scientifically interesting for a long mission.
- A spot that is safe to land.
Brian Hynek, a planetary scientist and Director of the Center for Astrobiology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, offers five potential landing sites:
- Outer edge of Mars’ North polar ice cap
- Deep canyon of Valles Marineris
- Martian “glaciers” in the Hellas Basin near Mars’ mid-latitudes
- Arabia Terra
- Martian lava tubes and caves
With growing information from every new mission to Mars, a greater picture will help guide future human activity and ambitions on the planet.
The History of the World, in One Video
This epic attempt to condense the history of the world — including the rise and fall of empires — fits into a single video.
Throughout the history of the world, many civilizations have risen and fallen.
You may be familiar with the achievements of prominent societies like the Romans, Mongols, or Babylonians, but how do all of their stories intertwine over time and geography?
Visualizing the History of the World
Today’s video comes to us from Ollie Bye, and it attempts to integrate the histories of all major civilizations known by historians into a single, epic video.
Similar to the Histomap, it’s pretty much impossible for a video like this to be perfect due to biases and a general lack of data. However, it’s still a compelling attempt at showing global history in a short and sweet fashion.
Let’s look at some specific moments on the video that particularly stand out.
750 AD: The Umayyad Caliphate
One of the largest empires in history, the Umayyad Caliphate peaked sometime around 750 AD.
Conquering most of North Africa, the Middle East, and even parts of Europe (including modern-day Spain, Portugal, and France), the Umayyads commanded a formidable territory with an area of 11,100,000 km² (4,300,000 sq. mi) and encompassing 33 million people.
1279: Mongol Dominance
No history of the world is complete without a mention of the Mongols.
Nearby societies have always been on edge when nomadic tribes in the Eurasian Steppe entered into organized confederations. Similar to the Huns or various Turk federations, the Mongols were known for their proficiency with horses, bows, and tactics like the feigned retreat.
Under the leadership of Temüjin — also known as Genghis Khan — the Mongols conquered one of the largest empires by land.
The empire reached its greatest extent just two years after the death of Genghis Khan.
Later on, it fragmented into smaller empires that were also quite notable in the context of world history. For example, Kublai Khan — the grandson of Genghis Khan — even went on to begin the influential Yuan Dynasty in China.
1346: The Black Death
The video also shows other vital stats, such as an estimate of global population through the ages.
In the mid-14th century, you can see this number take a rare U-turn, as millions of people die from the infamous and deadly Bubonic Plague.
The Black Death — one of the most devastating pandemics in the history of the world — hit Europe in 1346, and it eventually killed 30-60% of the continent’s population. There is no exact figure on the final death toll, but historians estimate it to be somewhere between 75 and 200 million people throughout Eurasia.
1418: The Age of Discovery
The video also provides a 10,000-foot view of the Age of Discovery, a period of time in which European powers explored the world’s oceans.
This colonial period marks the beginning of globalization, creating wide-ranging impacts that set the stage for more modern history.
In the video, it’s possible to see European colonies develop in all parts of the world, as well as how they eventually morphed into the countries that dot the globe today.
Playing the History Game
While it is certainly ambitious, not everyone will agree that this is a successful attempt at portraying world history – even in the limited scope of time allotted.
One key detail that seems to be missing, for example, is showing the development of the indigenous societies that existed in North America for thousands of years. That said, it’s also not clear what data and records are available to show these maps over many centuries of time.
Despite the possible flaws, the video does pack a lot of information into a short period of time, creating a compelling opportunity for learning and discussion. Like the Histomap, it may not be a definitive history of the world – but instead, it’s a useful attempt that stimulates our appetite for more information about the world and the societies that inhabit it.
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