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Global system

The mid-ocean ridges of the world are connected and form a single global mid-oceanic ridge system that is part of every ocean and the longest mountain range in the world. The continuous mountain range is 65,000 km (40,000 mi) long (several times longer than the Andes, the longest continental mountain range).

Physical properties

The total mass of the hydrosphere is about 1.4 quintillion tonnes (1.4×1018 long tons or 1.5×1018 short tons), which is about 0.023% of Earth's total mass. Less than 3% is freshwater; the rest is saltwater, almost all of which is in the ocean. The area of the World Ocean is about 361.9 million square kilometers (139.7 million square miles), which covers about 70.9% of Earth's surface, and its volume is approximately 1.335 billion cubic kilometers (320.3 million cubic miles). This can be thought of as a cube of water with an edge length of 1,101 kilometers (684 mi). Its average depth is about 3,688 meters (12,100 ft), and its maximum depth is 10,994 meters (6.831 mi) at the Mariana Trench. Nearly half of the world's marine waters are over 3,000 meters (9,800 ft) deep. The vast expanses of deep ocean (anything below 200 meters or 660 feet) cover about 66% of Earth's surface. This does not include seas not connected to the World Ocean, such as the Caspian Sea.

The bluish ocean color is a composite of several contributing agents. Prominent contributors include dissolved organic matter and chlorophyll. Mariners and other seafarers have reported that the ocean often emits a visible glow which extends for miles at night. In 2005, scientists announced that for the first time, they had obtained photographic evidence of this glow. It is most likely caused by bioluminescence.

Oceanic zones

Oceanographers divide the ocean into different vertical zones defined by physical and biological conditions. The pelagic zone includes all open ocean regions, and can be divided into further regions categorized by depth and light abundance. The photic zone includes the oceans from the surface to a depth of 200 m; it is the region where photosynthesis can occur and is, therefore, the most biodiverse. Because plants require photosynthesis, life found deeper than the photic zone must either rely on material sinking from above (see marine snow) or find another energy source. Hydrothermal vents are the primary source of energy in what is known as the aphotic zone (depths exceeding 200 m). The pelagic part of the photic zone is known as the epipelagic.

The pelagic part of the aphotic zone can be further divided into vertical regions according to temperature. The mesopelagic is the uppermost region. Its lowermost boundary is at a thermocline of 12 °C (54 °F), which, in the tropics generally lies at 700–1,000 meters (2,300–3,300 ft). Next is the bathypelagic lying between 10 and 4 °C (50 and 39 °F), typically between 700–1,000 meters (2,300–3,300 ft) and 2,000–4,000 meters (6,600–13,100 ft), lying along the top of the abyssal plain is the abyssopelagic, whose lower boundary lies at about 6,000 meters (20,000 ft). The last zone includes the deep oceanic trench, and is known as the hadalpelagic. This lies between 6,000–11,000 meters (20,000–36,000 ft) and is the deepest oceanic zone.

The benthic zones are aphotic and correspond to the three deepest zones of the deep-sea. The bathyal zone covers the continental slope down to about 4,000 meters (13,000 ft). The abyssal zone covers the abyssal plains between 4,000 and 6,000 m. Lastly, the hadal zone corresponds to the hadalpelagic zone, which is found in oceanic trenches.

The pelagic zone can be further subdivided into two subregions: the neritic zone and the oceanic zone. The neritic zone encompasses the water mass directly above the continental shelves whereas the oceanic zone includes all the completely open water.

In contrast, the littoral zone covers the region between low and high tide and represents the transitional area between marine and terrestrial conditions. It is also known as the intertidal zone because it is the area where tide level affects the conditions of the region.

If a zone undergoes dramatic changes in temperature with depth, it contains a thermocline. The tropical thermocline is typically deeper than the thermocline at higher latitudes. Polar waters, which receive relatively little solar energy, are not stratified by temperature and generally lack a thermocline because surface water at polar latitudes are nearly as cold as water at greater depths. Below the thermocline, water is very cold, ranging from −1 °C to 3 °C. Because this deep and cold layer contains the bulk of ocean water, the average temperature of the world ocean is 3.9 °C.[citation needed] If a zone undergoes dramatic changes in salinity with depth, it contains a halocline. If a zone undergoes a strong, vertical chemistry gradient with depth, it contains a chemocline.

The halocline often coincides with the thermocline, and the combination produces a pronounced pycnocline.