Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

Gonna Need A Bigger Boat: Reasons the Ocean is Terrifying

Much like space, the ocean is terrifying.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking smack about the beach. If I were to list my top five favourite places, beaches would take up at least three slots. It’s only further out, in the dark, crushing depths of the Marianas Trench, that things start to look like my own personalised horror movie.

Here’s three reasons why.

The Locals

I hate fish even on a good day. They’re slimy, they don’t blink, and they taste weird. Also, gills. Gills are gross.

Once you’re about 1,000 metres underwater, it’s time to kiss sunlight goodbye, but there are still plenty of fish hanging around. Some of them even make their own light, but while bioluminescence is inherently awesome, it doesn’t always end up looking like a James Cameron movie.

findingnemo3414More like a certain Pixar movie, which is apparently still classified G.

Other deep-sea inhabitants include the goblin shark (with it’s nightmarishly extendible mouth), the giant squid (which took us an embarrassingly long time to find), and sea spiders (which are considerably larger than land-spiders).

There’s also the aptly-named blobfish, voted World’s Ugliest Animal, which is only marginally less ugly in the water than out of it.

The Pressure

Unsurprisingly, water is both denser and heavier than air. The air pressure at sea level is about 101kPa, or one atmosphere (atm). The pressure at the deepest part of the ocean is roughly one thousand times that.

Just one example of what can happen when you mess around with pressure is the Byford Dolphin incident, a diving bell accident in which pushing the wrong button caused pressure to go suddenly from 9 atm to 1 atm. What happened next is known as explosive decompression (exactly what it sounds like) and killed five of the six workers present instantly.

20000-leagues-under-the-sea1If you want pictures of said incident, I’m afraid you’ll have to find them yourself.

If you’re lucky enough to avoid explosive decompression, you might just end up with regular old decompression sickness. Colloquially referred to as “the bends”, decompression sickness happens when a scuba diver comes up too fast. The sudden change in pressure causes nitrogen to form bubbles in the bloodstream, which can then ruin blood vessels and damage any part of the body, up to and including the brain and spinal cord.

There’s a reason underwater welders can earn six figures a year.

The Size

I know, the ocean isn’t nearly as big as space, but hear me out.

lakes_and_oceansRelevant XKCD. (Click here for a closer look.)

The ocean makes up about 70 percent of the Earth’s surface. It contains an estimated 1,335,000,000 cubic kilometres of water. So far, we’ve explored about 5 percent of that.

The Challenger Deep is the deepest known point of the ocean, and only three people have ever been there (strangely, one of them is James Cameron). It’s is approximately 36,200 feet below sea level. Eleven kilometres. That’s a just a little further than I have to drive to get to campus.

Except it’s all water. And it’s above you.

Sources (in order of appearance)

NOAA, How far does light travel in the ocean?, NOAA, retrieved 27 April 2016, <>.

The Ocean Portal Team, Bioluminescence, Ocean Portal, retrieved 27 April 2016, <>.

Finding nemo 2003, film, Pixar Animation Studios, Emeryville.

McGrouther, M 2015, Goblin Shark, Mitsukurina owstoni Jordan, 1898, Australian Museum, 27 April 2016, <>.

The Ocean Portal Team & Roper, C, Giant Squid, Ocean Portal, 27 April 2016, <>.

Ocean Today, Creatures of the deep: sea spider, NOAA, 27 April 2016, <>.

Schultz, C 2013, In defense of the blobfish: why the “world’s ugliest animal” isn’t as ugly as your think it is, Smithsonianmag, 27 April 2016, <>.

Zolfagharifard, E 2013, It’s no wonder he looks grumpy: ‘hideous’ blobfish is crowned the world’s ugliest animal, Daily Mail, 27 April 2016, <>.

History Channel, This day in history november 05, 1983, History Channel, 27 April 2016, <>.

Giertsen, JC, Sandstad, E, Morild, I, Bang, G, Bjersand, AJ, Eidsvik, S. 1988, An explosive decompression accident, PubMed, 27 April 2016, <>.

20,000 leagues under the sea 1954, film, Walt Disney Productions, Burbank.

Teideman, J 2012, The bends: anatomy of decompression sickness, Australian Geographic, 27 April 2016, <>.

Water Welders, Full guide: underwater welding salary & risk factor, Water Welders, 27 April 2016, <>.

Monroe, R, XKCD: lakes and oceans, XKCD, 27 April 2016, <>.

NOAA, How much water is in the ocean?, NOAA, 27 April 2016, <>.

NOAA, How much of the ocean have we explored?, NOAA, 27 April 2016, <>.

Piccard, J 1960, Man’s deepest dive, National Geographic, 27 April 2016, <>.

National Geographic, James cameron, National Geographic, 27 April 2016, <>.

NOAA, How deep is the ocean?, NOAA, 27 April 2016, <>.


2 comments on “Gonna Need A Bigger Boat: Reasons the Ocean is Terrifying

  1. bnewma
    April 27, 2016

    What a fascinating topic. Everything you mentioned really hammers home just how little we know about the deepest depths of the ocean. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( suggests that we have barely explored 5% of the oceans and depths. Its incredible to imagine the sheer number of species lurking beneath the surface that we have no information on. The graphic you provided showing the comparison between the various depths of the sea really put everything into perspective. Just like space, the depths of the ocean really are one of the worlds great unknowns.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. rachelmcnamarablog
    May 6, 2016

    It is part of human nature to fear the unknown and that what most of the ocean is to us. Only ninety-five percent of the oceans have actually be explored, which causes people to wonder what else might me down there. Who knows, maybe mermaids are real.

    The creatures that lived down there may be creepy but they are still interesting. Due to the lack of light, some fish have evolved to no longer have eyes!
    There are also underwater volcanos down there, which I have always found fascinating.

    The ocean is a strange place and maybe one day we will be able to explore all of it. Then we might not fear it as much, but on second thought, once you consider what might be down there, maybe we will fear it more.

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on April 27, 2016 by in Geelong - Wednesday 3pm, Uncategorized.

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