Science and the Ocean

Information about the oceans, its currents and tides has been recorded for thousands of years. Tidal activity was documented in ancient Greece by Aristotle and Strabo and has continued to this day, although early information was largely based on assumptions drawn from marine charts rather than accurate measurements and therefore had little scientific value.

Scientific Explorers and Researchers

While the existence of the Gulf Steam was acknowledged by many sea farers, greater understanding of this important ocean current was created  by Benjamin Franklin who applied rigorous scientific methods to measuring its depth, speed and temperature. The trigger for his investigations was the simple question - 'Why does sailing from America to Europe take less time than going the other way?'. Together with his cousin, the whaling captain Timothy Folger, Franklin was the first to map the Gulf Stream during many Atlantic Ocean crossings, producing his Gulf Stream chart in 1770.

 Explorers James Cook and Louis Antoine de Bougainville  made important biological and navigational discoveries relating to the Pacific Ocean and wrote detailed reports based on their findings.  Cook recorded the moon patterns and accurate longitude and latitude measurements.

James Rennell, also known as 'The Father of Indian Geography' , was the geographer and pioneer in oceanography who created a very accurate map of the currents in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans around Africa in 1799. Also in the latter part of the 18th century, Charles Darwin published important papers based on scientific research he had conducted on reefs and atolls.

Edward Forbes is considered the original pioneer in marine biology having dredged the Aegean Sea between 1841 and 1842 and discovered marine life at the bottom of the ocean. Through his research, Forbes identified the influence of climatic conditions on ocean patterns and on the nature of marine life. He published a journal called Report on the Mollusca and Radiata of the Aegean Sea in 1843.

Another highly regarded publication, The Depths of the Ocean, published in 1912, was the product of a scientific expedition led by Sir John Murray and Johan Hjort who set out to break new ground in oceanographic and marine zoological research. During their expedition, new depth measurements were recorded for the deepest point on the earth’s floor, known as the Challenger Deep after the British research vessel HMS Challenger which made the first recording of its depth, located in the Pacific Ocean.

Many scientific institutions dedicated to oceanographic investigation were established in different parts of the world during the 19th and 20th centuries. The majority of these institutions were located in the United States and included the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1892, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1930, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in 1938, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University and, the School of Oceanography at University of Washington. In the United Kingdom, the National Oceanography Centre was set up in Southampton. The CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research (CMAR) was established in Australia and, today, is considered the leader in oceanography investigation.

In Ireland, the Marine Institute (Foras na Mara) is the national centre for marine research and operates the State's two research vessels - RV Celtic Explorer and RV Celtic Voyager. In 2011 the RV Celtic Explorer successfully photographed deep water volcanic vents on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge at a depth of three kilometres using the national ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) Holland 1. This footage has been incorporated into the TV series 'Alien Deep' sponsored by the National Geographic Society.

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