The Ocean, Benevolent But Untamed Giant
Have you ever stood on the ocean shore enjoying the salt spray, watching the breakers dash against the rocks or spend themselves as they run up onto the sandy beach and then withdraw? Have you marveled at the vastness of the ocean, its might and mystery?
There are few people who cannot enjoy spending hours at the ocean. There is a fascination about the sea, and its ceaseless sound never becomes irritating, but, rather, is conducive to peaceful sleep.
It is impossible to grasp the immensity of the ocean’s power. Most of its secrets have not yet been unlocked. Men have done little to harness its energy, and when it goes on a rampage nothing that man erects can stay its fury.
One Ocean, but as Varied as Land Areas
The oceans cover about 71 percent of the earth’s surface. We say “oceans,” but there is really one World Ocean. It is usually divided by geographers into three: the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Indian Ocean. However, they all come together, particularly in the Antarctic. Yet, different areas of the ocean have their own distinctive traits, just as do various sections of land. In fact, some lands are what they are because of the characteristics of the part of the ocean that washes their shores.
For example, sections of the ocean have certain kinds of surface currents, warm or cold, that affect the climate in their areas. There are also tremendous “rivers” running through the ocean in definite channels at various depths—rivers that would make the Mississippi or the Congo look like mere brooks. Unimaginably varied forms of plant and animal life exist there too. Some sections of the ocean are saltier than others; in some places the water is heavier because of salt or temperature. But all the water circulates.
The ocean contains 329 million cubic miles of water. To get some idea of the ocean’s volume, consider its salt content (mostly common salt), only 3.5 percent by weight. Yet, if all this salt were separated and dried out it would cover the continents with a layer about 500 feet thick! If all the ocean beds could be emptied, and all the land above sea level “shoveled” into that space, there would still be room left to hold ten times that much land. And the highest land mountain, if placed on the lowest ocean floor, would be more than a mile beneath the surface of the water.
Pressure in the ocean increases about 14.7 pounds per square inch for every thirty-three feet of depth. If you could dive to the deepest spot in the ocean, Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench of the Pacific, southwest of Guam, the pressure at that depth (35,597 feet) would be about eight tons on every square inch of your body. A human, used to fifteen pounds per square inch in our atmosphere, would be crushed long before reaching the ocean floor. Nonetheless, certain fishes and other forms of sea life have been designed to live comfortably in such an environment. Apparently they survive because their bodily construction equalizes the pressure inside and outside their bodies.
Essential to Life on Earth
Yes, when we look at the ocean we are staggered by its depth and extent. One can sail on it for days, even weeks, without sighting land. And yet the volume of all the water on earth is only a little more than one tenth of one percent of the planet’s total volume. This view makes the oceans mere shallow basins of water. (Isa. 40:12) It is good for us, however, that this comparatively small amount of water is on the earth’s surface, for if not, we could not live. Meditating on this will help us to appreciate the dynamic energy of the Creator, and his wisdom and foresight in putting the oceans where they are. Consider:
Both temperature and rainfall are regulated by the ocean. It greatly influences earth’s temperature because of water’s property of holding heat and releasing it much more slowly than land surfaces do. Also, ocean currents distribute heat and cold. As waters heat up under the tropical sun they tend to move away. Cooler waters move in to replace them. Adding to this orderly movement of the seas are the tides. Important also is the “Coriolis effect.’’ This is a tendency, caused by earth’s rotation, for everything in motion to sidle to the right and to go in a clockwise direction in the northern hemisphere, to the left and counterclockwise in the southern. Therefore currents in the North Atlantic, such as the warm Gulf Stream, travel up the North American coastline and turn toward European shores. Winds also do their share in producing the ocean’s movements. The trade winds, for example, which blow from east to west, create the North and the South Equatorial currents. Part of this water returns in the Equatorial Countercurrent, which runs from west to east through the belt of equatorial calms. Deep-sea waters are affected by other factors and do not follow the same pattern as waters nearer the surface.
So, far from being a static basin of water, the ocean is a moving, functioning part of this planet, specifically designed by the Creator for the maintenance of all forms of life on earth. And, though at times seeming rough, it is actually most orderly and stable. Aside from maintaining life, it also has had much to do with the formation of coastlines, beaches and even land areas such as volcanic and coral islands.
The constant motion of the ocean makes possible a “self-perpetuating” food supply. Dead organic matter that settles toward the bottom is eaten by various forms of sea life. That which these scavengers miss is decomposed by bacteria and changed into mineral form down in the depths. Then there are “upwellings” from the ocean bottom that carry these nutrients up to the surface as food for the phytoplankton—minute plant life that forms the ocean’s “pastures.” These phytoplankton are fed on by small sea creatures that are, in turn, eaten by larger ones. So, just as on land, plant life is the starting point for the food cycle.
Moreover, the ocean is a gigantic reservoir of carbon dioxide—130 trillion tons of it. The great quantities of this chemical enable the seas to maintain a balanced atmosphere for both plant and animal life on the land. It has been estimated that the ocean gives off into the atmosphere 100 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year and receives back the same amount, in a cycle. There is also an almost exact exchange of smaller quantities on the land (60 billion tons) between photosynthesis of land vegetation (which consumes carbon dioxide) and respiration of humans and land animals (which produces carbon dioxide). Thereby a perfect balance is maintained, and life, both on land and in the sea, goes on. Only man disturbs this balance, mainly by combustion of fossil fuels. However, providentially, the ocean can hoard carbon dioxide or release it, depending on equilibrium conditions. This very fine provision of the Creator has a great deal to do with our health and with weather conditions.
Where the “Giant” Shows His Muscles
It is in the restless waves of the ocean that we see its might. The pattern of waves, which may appear intricate and confusing in a storm area, is really governed by definite, unchanging laws. In a wave the force moves forward but the water does not. This can be illustrated by placing a cork on a wave. It merely moves back and forth and up and down. A particle of water at the surface of a wave in the open ocean travels in a circle having a diameter equal to the height of the wave.
When waves get close to the shore and the depth becomes less, the waves finally break (and here the water and your cork do move ahead). An interesting fact is that waves tend to converge around a point of land, thereby exerting great energy on it. Along a straight beach the energy is distributed and the water is more peaceful. There are exceptions, however, because the ocean bottom in the area greatly affects the surf’s characteristics. By studying a carefully timed series of aerial photographs of the surf, oceanographers are able to determine the depth and contour of the ocean floor along a shoreline. This method was used during World War II in planning amphibious troop landings on enemy-held beaches.
Storm waves are caused by wind—the strength and duration of the wind determining the size of the waves, some of which grow to a height of a hundred feet. The power that storm waves exert is almost unbelievable. They have been known to throw rocks weighing 7,000 pounds over a wall twenty feet high! At Tillamook Rock Light off the Oregon coast, the lighthouse beacon is 139 feet above low water, but it had to be protected by a heavy steel grating because rocks were constantly breaking it.
At Wick, Scotland, storm waves moved a breakwater having a cap weighing 2,600 tons, lifting it as a unit and setting it into the water.
But the most destructive waves of all, generally known as “tidal waves,” are more correctly called tsunami (Japanese, meaning “powerful waves”). The term “tidal waves” is a misnomer, for such waves are not caused by the tides. To understand their origin we need first to know something about the ocean floor.
On the ocean bed there are hundreds of seamounts of volcanic origin. Some extend above water to form islands, such as the Hawaiian Islands. There are also tremendous plates of rock that lie along “faults” in the ocean floor. Under stress they crack and crunch, causing undersea earthquakes. Such earthquakes, along with hurricanes or typhoons and the occasional eruption of a volcano, are the causes of tsunami. One of the greatest tsunami caused by volcanic action resulted from the explosion, in 1883, of a volcano on the island of Krakatoa in the Indian Ocean. The blast destroyed eight square miles of island. Either from the explosion or from the cubic mile of rock and earth that fell back into the water, a tsunami was formed that killed 36,000 people on the shores of Java and Sumatra. An earlier tsunami, in 1876, swept the shore of the Bay of Bengal, killing 200,000 persons. In 1970 a tsunami striking East Pakistan also killed about 200,000 persons.
Tsunami travel at speeds of up to 450 miles an hour. On the open sea they are hardly noticed, but when they come to the shallow waters of a coastline they create waves that wreak havoc. A sea captain in a ship standing off the coast of Hilo, Hawaii, looked around to see a wave destroying the harbor and half the city. Yet he had not even noticed when the wave passed under his ship.
To Serve Forever for Mankind’s Benefit
Volumes have been written about the ocean, and its fascination has been so great that many men have spent their lives on it, enjoying it and marveling at its many mysteries. Some have gone far beneath the surface; some have even spent periods of time living under it in specially built laboratories. Yet it is less understood in many respects than is outer space. And its varying moods are far from being controlled by man.
However, its Creator, Jehovah God, fully understands and will control the ocean’s might so that, in his approaching New Order, the ocean will bring no harm to those who love him. Being the Maker of the earth, his account of creation written thousands of years ago anticipates what modern geologists have found by research. Describing events of the third creative “day” (of thousands of years’ duration), the account reads: “And God went on to say: ‘Let the waters under the heavens be brought together into one place [there is actually only one ocean] and let the dry land appear.’ And it came to be so. And God began calling the dry land Earth, but the bringing together of the waters he called Seas.”—Gen. 1:9, 10.
Furthermore, the psalmist wrote poetically under inspiration:
“He has founded the earth upon its established places;
It will not be made to totter to time indefinite, or forever.
With a watery deep just like a garment you covered it.
The waters were standing above the very mountains.
At your rebuke they began to flee;
At the sound of your thunder they were sent running in panic—
Mountains proceeded to ascend,
Valley plains proceeded to descend—
To the place that you have founded for them.
A boundary you set, beyond which they should not pass,
When Jesus Christ was on earth he had mastery over the sea and the winds. (Matt. 8:23-27; John 6:16-21) As heavenly King during his thousand-year reign over earth, he will exercise full control over the ocean’s might and resources so that it will benevolently serve mankind forever.