70 percent of our planet’s surface and its deep blue waters have inspired myths and legends since ancient times. The ocean’s influence even extends beyond the Earth with a sign of blue considered as a sign of life even in faraway planets. Recent NASA discoveries gathered by researchers through the Hubble Space Telescope and Cassini spacecraft indicate that Earth may not be the only ocean world in our solar system. The Cassini spacecraft made numerous discoveries including a global ocean that showed indications of hydrothermal activity within the icy moon Enceladus, and liquid methane seas on its moon Titan¹. But there are discoveries we are making every year, and these are much closer to home: within our own oceans, the depths of which remain largely unexplored.
So, let’s celebrate the wealth of our oceans by looking at five new discoveries made in our waters not least thanks to modern technology!
New species hidden in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean
Scientists believe they have discovered more than 10 new marine species after exploring new depths in the Atlantic Ocean. In what is a ground-breaking study which uses the latest diving technology, researchers discovered new organisms that they think will close the missing evolutionary link between backboned and invertebrate animals². Among the ten new species, scientists came across a rare “basket star” which is a type of brittle stars and cousin of the starfish we often find in our shores. The basket star uses its intricate arms to walk and snare passing prey such as plankton and shrimp³.
And this is only one of many discoveries made by scientists. What is equally fascinating is what research reveals about many of these species. For example, we can trace the origins of many deep ocean octopuses back to relatives that swam in the waters around Antarctica. The migration began about 30 million years ago when the continent cooled and large ice sheets grew, forcing octopuses there into ever deeper waters. Many lost their defensive ink sacs because the pitch-black ocean depths required no camouflage screen⁴.
Underwater rivers and lakes
You might think that life under the sea simply follows water currents. But recent discoveries have brought to the surface an unexpected feature of our oceans: underwater rivers and lakes! One of the biggest underwater river was found flowing along the bottom of the Black Sea complete with trees and leaves flowing on the sea bed, and even waterfalls! To give you an indication of its size, it is estimated that if on land, the undersea river would be the world’s sixth largest in terms of the volume of water flowing through it⁵.
This is an important finding as it can help scientists explain how life manages to survive in the deep oceans away from the nutrient-rich waters found close to land. The undersea river, which is up to 115 feet deep in places, even has rapids and waterfalls much like the rivers we see on land⁵. Scientists from the University of Leeds have studied a deep channel found on the sea bed and uncovered a river with very salty water in the Black Sea. The water flowing in that channel was denser than the surrounding water. Researchers estimate that these rivers are acting like arteries providing life to the deep ocean.
A second Great Barrier Reef
Most of us will have heard about Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and its unique role in providing shelter for numerous and diverse species. But there is a similar formation behind Australia’s famous Great Barrier Reef – one that fewer visitors ever get to see. This one looks a bit different though: it is formed of a 6,000-square-kilometer stretch of limestone circles knitting together a colossal second reef. This underwater reef is estimated to be around 10,000 years old and the rings were formed by dead algae called Halimeda. When this algae dies, it changes from a living, green thing to a pale, limestone flake. Over the years, the algae fossilized together into doughnut-shaped heaps which are 20 meters thick⁶.
The missing continent of Gondwana
Earth’s land masses once had a very different constellation: Pangaea was a supercontinent that existed during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras; it began to break apart about 175 million years ago. But one supercontinent most of us are less likely to know is called Gondwana – and it was only discovered a few years ago. During an international effort to map the Perth Abyssal Plain in the Indian Ocean, scientists located two submerged islands 1.5 kilometers below the surface. These islands are almost as big as Tasmania that connected India and Australia before the two separated. When fully studied, these micro-continents are likely to change our current understanding and beliefs about how plate tectonics broke apart the pieces that became India, Australia, and Antarctica⁶.
The first computer of ancient times
In what was the first underwater exploration of its kind, a team of Greek and international divers and archaeologists used a new high-tech exosuit to reach the world-renowned Antikythera wreck had lain for two thousand years. Their investigation allowed for the discovery of remnants contained among the ships luxury cargo including tableware, ship components, and a giant bronze spear that would have belonged to a life-sized warrior statue⁷.
But perhaps the most impressive finding was the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient analogue computer used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses for calendrical and astrological purposes, as well as a four-year cycle of athletic games that was similar to, but not identical to, the cycle of the ancient Olympic Games⁸.
Our world’s oceans are one of the Earth’s last frontiers that remains to be explored! It contains parts of our history and can provide insight to our civilisation but it also hides a lot of our nature’s wonders that can tell us more about our planet’s origins!