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Why Study the Ocean

Why Study the Ocean?

We all came from the sea. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.
-- John F. Kennedy: 35th President of the United States, Navy veteran, avid sailor

No matter your major, SEA considers ocean studies to be an essential component of a liberal arts education. Below are a few points to consider as you think about joining us for your off-campus study experience.

Planet Ocean…

  • 72% of Earth’s surface is covered in water, yet in name it is ignored
  • The average depth of our ocean is two miles; it supports life at every level
  • Changes in the tropical Pacific can affect snowfall in Seattle, hurricane season in the Atlantic, and more
  • While no one knows for sure, it is likely that most of our planet’s biodiversity exists in the ocean
  • The Gulf Stream moves 10,000 times as much water as the Mississippi River

Uncharted Waters…

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) operates on a budget for ocean exploration that is less than 1% of NASA’s budget
  • We have better maps of Mars than we do of our ocean floor
  • The U.S. controls the surrounding waters out to 200 miles beyond our terrestrial borders, yet most of this exclusive economic zone is unexplored

Discoveries Within Our Lifetime…

  • 1960: the Trieste carries two humans to the deepest point in the ocean
  • 1973: humans first visit the mid-ocean ridge, the earth's largest geologic feature
  • 1977: Alvin carries scientists to observe deep ocean hydrothermal vents for the first time. Among their discoveries is the fact that life can be supported at the bottom of the ocean even without sunlight through chemosynthesis.

Modern Civilization and the Ocean…

  • The majority of human civilization spread via the oceans
  • 90% of international trade is by ship
  • 50% of the world’s population is coastal

Harmful Human Actions…

  • Most fisheries are becoming overfished
  • The weight of garbage that is dumped into the ocean is three times the weight of fish caught
  • As the oceans absorb more carbon dioxide, they are becoming more acidic, threatening corals, shellfish and plankton – the base of the marine food chain
  • Sea level is expected to rise almost a meter this century, harming coastal wetlands and forcing human evacuations from low lying island nations