The ocean’s role in regulating earth’s climate is as important as the atmosphere’s. The ocean shifts warm water from the tropics towards higher latitudes (in the Gulf Stream, for instance), and cold water from high latitudes towards the tropics (the North Atlantic current or the Antarctic bottom water, for instance).
The ocean is also an immense heat reserve – a thousand times greater than the atmosphere – which means it plays a role in moderating climatic variations (such as the temperature difference between summer and winter in continental and ocean climates). It’s effectively the memory of earth’s climate system. The ocean also plays a part in most recurring climatic phenomena – for those of us in Europe, a good example would be the North Atlantic oscillation. But it’s above all in climatic variations over a long period that the sea’s influence is greatest – for instance, in response to global warming due to the concentration of carbon gas in the atmosphere. Together with the atmosphere, the ocean is part of El Niño (also known as the Southern oscillation) in the tropical Pacific.
Marine energy, also called ocean or thalasso-energy, includes technological development, and understanding and exploiting the natural energies present in the ocean: swells, waves, currents, tides and ocean thermal energy (which uses the thermal gradient between the ocean’s surface and its depths).
The oceans produce half of the oxygen we breathe. In the air around us, one of every two oxygen molecules comes from the ocean. If the forests are one of the planet’s lungs, the oceans are the other. They constitute two thirds of the planet, covering what are in effect huge prairies filled with plankton and other micro-organisms whose photosynthetic activity is an immense oxygen pump. But these sea organisms are also a sort of soakaway for carbon gas, absorbing over half the CO2 produced on Earth.
Thanks to sharks, we now know that the smoothest possible surface isn’t necessarily the most aerodynamic. The shark is a very fast fish – a mako shark can swim up to 100 km an hour – yet it has extremely rough skin, not smooth at all. It has tiny scales – 0.06 mm – that are ridged and angular, called dermal denticles. Water gets into these micro-grooves, creates eddies, keeps the water closer to the shark and reduces resistance. This phenomenon (known as the riblet effect) can be explained in two ways:
Staying in the water, this effect has been copied to create swimsuits for top professional swimmers such as Michael Phelps during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Some boats have also used this system for their hulls, and airplanes such as the A320 Airbus.
22,000 medications come from the oceans. For instance: