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A little oceanography

Every day we get a lot of questions about the sea. This gave us the idea of collecting these questions, answering them and summarising the answers in a "little oceanography". If this doesn't satisfy your hunger for knowledge - you can find more information on exciting marine topics in our Oceanblog or in our podcast "Meeresrauschen" (also available on Spotify and Apple).

Have fun and stay informed!

Frequently asked questions about the sea

It can be made short - and this answer is both the legitimisation and the basis of "oceanography": because its very existence makes the earth what it is - a planet that makes life possible. Without the sea, there is no life - and without life, not questions like these.
But we also want to go a little deeper: The sea is healthy because it has a psycho-hygienic effect on people. While hustle and bustle, noise, exhaust fumes, light pollution accompany us modern people every day, psychosocial health is an important aspect, at least as important as the physiological-somatic one; the two are closely related.
The sociologist Georg Simmel had already described the psychosocial phenomena of city life very early on in his essay "Die Großstädte und das Geistesleben" (1903) and warned of their health risks: "the multitude of people, the brevity and rarity of personal encounters, the fleetingness and arbitrariness, the change and the associated superficiality of social contacts, the blunting against differences and the commodity character of the thing- and social-world reduce the importance of the individual, who is no longer perceived as a distinctive personality but often only as an overlookable 'speck of dust'," according to the sociologist.
In contrast, there is something liberatingly beneficial about spending time on the coast, in or on the water, because it allows us to perceive ourselves as individuals in relation to nature. This has to do with the stimuli that affect us: the light and thus the colours are more intense, the sounds and movements, though not always quiet, are harmonious; fresh, lightly or strongly moving air, the smell is unmistakably fresh and characteristic. But the sensations of a walk by the sea also have another, perhaps initially intimidating effect: many people also feel fear of the vastness and depth, of the untamed forces of the sea.
These fears or respect for the forces of nature also ultimately have a positive effect on psychosocial health, because in everyday life with its all-round overstimulation, we repress our fears all too readily, often and easily. Our perceived world - at least in the industrialised countries - conveys to us a supposedly safe environment that is disconnected from nature and even dominates it. At or on the sea, we become aware that we are only a "grain of sand". This sorting into the living world does us good. Of course, the "material" also has an effect on health. But more on that later....

The salt originates from the time when the first water envelope formed after the cooling and solidification of the Earth's crust, the primordial ocean. Since then, two opposing processes have had an effect on the salt content: when sedimentary material on the seabed penetrates into the geological subsurface, salt migrates in with it. At the same time, salt is constantly added to the sea through rock weathering.
Both processes were pronounced to different degrees in the earth's historical epochs. If mountain building or the geological fixing of salts was more active than erosion, which added salt to the sea, the salt content in the seawater was lower. Conversely, the salt content was higher when the input of salt through erosion was higher than that lost through mountain building.
But the climate and the shape or depth of the oceans also shape the salt content: probably the salt content was higher 270 million years ago than it is today, because at that time a lot of seawater evaporated in shallow water areas, so that the salt content was about 42 g per litre of seawater. Today it averages 34.7 g/l. You can find more articles on the topic of sea salt on Oceanblog. Oceanblog.

Census in the sea

The diversity of the oceans seems infinite, the ecosystem itself is still as unknown as the far side of the moon. But we already sense its sensitivity and importance for humans, especially when consequences for which humans are responsible, such as rising sea levels, lead to direct impacts on civilisation and the economy.
That is why the "Census of Marine Life", which took place between 2000 and 2010, was not only a scientifically driven undertaking, but also a social task of the first order. In a concerted effort by 80 countries and 2,700 scientists, with an enormous investment of infrastructure, money and labour, the "Census" was intended to gather fundamental information about the biological foundations of the oceans: how great is the actual biodiversity, which species live where and what does their future look like - on a planet increasingly taken over by humans? What influence do the species themselves have on the marine ecosystem and also on humans?
The "Census" has still not been able to give a concrete figure on the species and types of life that actually exist in the ocean. But the number of known animal species in the ocean increased from 230,000 to almost 250,000 and an extrapolation gave a total of at least one million species and tens or even hundreds of millions of microbial species.

What circuit boards are to computers, biodiversity is to biotechnology. Impressive biodiversity is one of the foundations for the next great economic cycle, which well-known economists see as being based in biotechnology, nanotechnology and health skills. We already use only a tiny part of this wealth as food or for cosmetics production - mostly unsustainably and moderately intelligently, as the example of the overfishing of many fish stocks shows. Biodiversity carries within it the potential for the therapy of diseases of all kinds and for preventive health measures. Also based on the figures produced by the "Census", one can calculate the economic value that this potential has: The value of the therapeutics against cancer alone, which still lie dormant in marine organisms, is estimated at up to 4 trillion euros (Erwin et al. 2010). Measured in terms of the share of oncology drugs in the total pharmaceutical market Gesamt-Pharmamarkt , the economic potential is probably 60 trillion euros. Note: this calculation does not include the use of living marine resources as food (supplements) and for cosmetics, biotechnology or medical products. The economic potential is therefore likely to be much higher. By way of comparison, the value of the oil in the Earth's deposits (approx. 300 billion barrels (ca. 300 Milliarden Barrel)), can be put at 25 trillion euros. The goal of oceanBASIS, the company that invented the maritime natural cosmetic "Oceanwell", is the sustainable use of this treasure chest for health. Knowledge about the material composition of this biological diversity, but also about the interactions of organisms and molecules and their sustainable use is the key to this treasure chest.

In his book "The Fractal Geometry of Nature", the chaos theorist Benoit Mandelbrot described the following phenomenon: If we look at the rough structure of the coasts, i.e. large bays and side seas, their length is much smaller than if we also look at the smaller bays.

If we were also to include the outlines of individual pebbles and grains of sand, and even atoms or subatomic structures, the coastline would be almost infinite. Mandelbrot only used the problem of determining coastline lengths as a starting point to show a possible application for fractals. However, many non-scientists saw in the article a proof that the coastline length becomes arbitrarily large if it is determined precisely enough.

However, the practical application of this approach has no meaning in the real world, if only because the definition of the coastline cannot be determined with arbitrary precision due to the changing water level. In nature, the self-similarity of structures only applies to a limited number of levels and not to infinitely small structures. For this reason, too, one cannot conclude that coastlines are infinitely long.

In practice, one makes do with the definition of scales: Looking at the continents, an average scale of 1:200,000 yields the following values:

  • Europe 37,200 km
  • Asia 70,600
  • Australia 19,500 km
  • America 104.200km
  • Africa 30,500 km
  • Antarctica 24,300 km

Tides are caused by the gravitational forces (predominantly) of the moon. The shape and depth of the different sea regions determine the shape of the tidal wave. Crucially, the moon and sun appear to move back and forth between northern and southern tropics in the course of a year. In relation to the Earth's equatorial plane, they form angles of maximum 23.5 degrees (at the summer and winter solstices) and 28.5 degrees (at the summer and winter lunar solstices).
 This declination affects the tidal wave: When the angular deviations of the sun and moon coincide, a one-day tidal waveform with a 24-hour rhythm occurs, especially in summer and winter. This is especially the case in mid-latitudes, e.g. in the Gulf of Thailand, the Gulf of Mexico, the South China Sea and the Java Sea. In other marine regions, mixed forms occur, e.g. two high and low tides rising and falling differently, or with two high tides of unequal strength.

The oceans play a crucial role in the global climate system. They contain 50 times more CO2 than the atmosphere and swallow a third of the greenhouse gas produced by humans every year. Thus, the oceans dampen the greenhouse effect, but at the same time they change the chemistry of the sea - the pH value decreases, i.e. the water becomes more acidic.
This in turn has serious consequences for the creatures that live in the sea. The effects on marine organisms that have a calcareous shell are quite obvious, because this dissolves or forms less easily in water with a lower pH value. Corals are at risk, but calcareous algae are also affected. Scientists estimate that lime production in the oceans will decline to 60-70% of pre-industrial levels by 2100.
But because calcareous algae release CO2 into the seawater when they build up their shells, there is an opposite effect. Fewer calcareous algae mean less CO2 release. This creates more space in the ocean reservoir for the absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere.