History of Marine Science

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Greeks first use the term okeanos, root of our word ocean

The life of Aristotle.  He gave us our modern concept of science based on observation and was one of the first people to realize that the Earth was a sphere.  Direct contributions to marine science include describing many marine organisms, realizing that cetaceans are air breathing mammals and speculating on the bathymetry of the sea.

Eratosthenes calculates circumference of the Earth and uses the terms latitude and longitude to describe locations.

Erastothene's formula for calculating the circumference of the Earth.

An Early diving bell, the barrel to right is for bringing down fresh air.

Leonardo de Vinci realizes that the fossils of marine creatures on mountains where not formed there or the result of a world wide deluge but that the mountains must have been at one time part of the sea floor.  de Vinci also designs diving bells and describes compressed air tanks.

Columbus sets out westward for India, instead he discovers the new world and effectively proves that the world is round.

The survivors of Magellan's crew complete the first circumnavigation of the world.

Surface supplied diving becomes possible with the development of a practical air pump.

Surface supplied diver- the hoses provide compressed air from the surface.

Three voyages of James Cook use a chronometer to make more accurate maps of the Pacific and discover Australia and Hawaii.

Benjamin Franklin produces chart showing the Gulf Stream, the first described ocean current.

Franklin's map of the Gulf Stream.

Charles Darwin departs on five_year circumnavigation aboard HMS Beagle.  He notes similarities between the geography and biology of South America and the Galapagos Islands.  He also develops a (correct) theory that outlines the growth of coral reefs.  Years later he will publish the book “Origins of Species” and outlining his theory of descent with modification.  This becomes the unifying theory of biology.

Matthew Maury publishes Physical Geography of the Seas.  This is the first modern text on oceanography.  It outlines many ocean currents and standardizes methods for collecting oceanographic and meteorological data.

Matthew Maury

The Challenger expedition begins.  This is the first global circumnavigation with the expressed intent of collecting marine science information.  Led by Wyville Thomson, the crew collects thousands of water sample, makes hundreds of bathymetric measurements and dredges at great depths in all the worlds oceans.  Among other achievements the expedition disproves the azoic theory (that there is no life below a particular depth) discovers that the ionic ratios in sea water are constant and finds the Marianas Trench.

Marine Biological Laboratory founded at Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

The Fram, captured by Arctic Ice in order to study its drift.

1893 - 1896
Fram expedition to explore the Arctic led by Fridtjof Nansen.

V. Walfrid Ekman describes Ekman transport which explains interaction between wind, coriolis force and the ocean.  He also develops many tools use in physical oceanography.

Alfred Wegener introduces theory of continental drift.  He brings together a large body of information to support this. This theory later becomes known as plate tectonics.

The German Meteor Expedition uses an echo sounder (later called SONAR) to map the floor of the Atlantic.

William Beebe and Otis Barton descend to over 3000 feet of the coast of Bermuda.  This allows for the first observation of deep ocean animals.

Beebe on top of his bathysphere.

Invention of SCUBA by Jacques Cousteau and Emil Gagnon.  This allows for practical untethered swimming and underwater observation to over 200 feet.

Bruce C. Heezen & Marie Tharp publish an accurate map of the floor of the atlantic.  In 1977 they release a map of the entire ocean floor.  This leads further evidence to the idea of continental drift/ plate tectonics.

The Trieste carries Jacques Piccard and Navy Lt. Don Walsh to a depth of 10,915 meters in the Marianas Trench.  This is the deepest manned expedition.

The Deep Ocean Drilling Project’s vessel “Glomar Challenger”, returns cores from the deep ocean, indicating the age of the Earth's crust and supporting theories of sea floor spreading and plate tectonics .

The Glomar Challenger, deep sea drilling vessel.

The Tektite II expeditions are the first to use underwater habitats for study of ocean ecology, where previous underwater habitat research was oriented towards the effect it had on humans.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institutes Deep Submergence Vessel Alvin discovers hydrothermal vents off the Galapagos Islands. The expedition is Robert Ballard who will develop much technology for exploring the ocean floor. These are the only habitats on earth that exist independent of sunlight.

SEASAT, the first satellite for the study of the ocean is launched.  It is able to use radar to determine wave height and sea surface temperatures.

U.S./French TOPEX/Poseidon satellite launched.  This satellite makes hyper accurate altimetry readings of the ocean surface and maps changes in ocean surface height.

A Japanese Remotely Operated Vehicle “Keiko,” sets a new depth record: 10,978 meters (36,008 feet) in the Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench.

SeaWiFS satellite launched.  This instrumentation allows slight color variations in the ocean surface to be recognized to determine chlorophyll concentration and thus primary production.

Four year average oceanic chlorophyll content.

Film Maker James Cameron reached the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench.  This is the first manned dive to this depth since the Bathyscaph expedition.