What Is Ocean Exploration and Why Is It Important?

We have explored about five percent of Earth’s ocean. “What does that mean?” “Who cares?” “What difference does it make?” “So what?”

NOAA's Deep Discoverer remotely operated vehicle images a potential gas seep along the Northeast U.S. coast.

NOAA's Deep Discoverer remotely operated vehicle images a potential gas seep along the northeast U.S. coast. Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program.

Despite the fact that the ocean plays a role in everything from the air we breathe to daily weather and climate patterns, we know very little about our ocean. And, most of our knowledge of the ocean lies in shallower waters. Deeper waters remain a mystery even though we are relying more and more on these areas for food, energy, and other resources. Enter ocean exploration...

Ocean exploration is about making discoveries, searching for things that are unusual and unexpected. Ocean exploration, however, is not randomly wandering in hopes of finding something new. It is disciplined, systematic, and includes rigorous observations and documentation of biological, chemical, physical, geological, and archaeological aspects of the ocean.

Findings made through ocean exploration are fundamental to reducing unknowns in deep-ocean areas and providing high-value environmental intelligence needed to address both current and emerging science and management needs. Exploration helps to ensure that ocean resources are not just managed, but managed well, so those resources are around for future generations to enjoy.

Through ocean exploration, we can establish the baseline information needed to better understand environmental change, filling gaps in the unknown to deliver reliable and authoritative science that is foundational to providing foresight about future conditions and informing the decisions we confront every day on this dynamic planet. This same knowledge is often the only source for basic information needed to respond appropriately in the face of deep-sea disasters.

Information from ocean exploration is important to everyone. Unlocking the mysteries of deep-sea ecosystems can reveal new sources for medical drugs, food, energy resources, and other products. Information from deep-ocean exploration can help predict earthquakes and tsunamis and help us understand how we are affecting and being affected by changes in Earth’s climate and atmosphere.

Ocean exploration can improve ocean literacy and inspire young people to seek careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The challenges of exploring the deep ocean can provide the basis for technology and engineering innovations that can be applied in other situations.

Yet even as the importance of deep areas of the ocean in our everyday lives continues to increase, our knowledge of these areas remains limited – in many instances, we are “flying blind” when it comes to management, regulation, and resource use in deep-water areas.

The NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research is the only federal organization currently dedicated to exploring our unknown ocean.

On the Ocean Explorer website, you can learn more about who we are and what we do. You can follow ocean explorations as they are happening, learn about the tools and technology used during these explorations, and discover opportunities for people of all ages to expand their understanding of the ocean environment.

 

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