Why do we explore the ocean?

Exploration is key to increasing our understanding of the ocean, so we can more effectively manage, conserve, regulate, and use ocean resources that are vital to our economy and to all of our lives.


Despite the fact that the ocean covers approximately 70% of Earth’s surface and plays a critical role in supporting life on our planet, from the air we breathe and the food we eat to weather and climate patterns, our understanding of the ocean remains limited.

Ocean exploration is about making discoveries, searching for things that are unusual and unexpected. As the first step in the scientific process, the rigorous observations and documentation of biological, chemical, physical, geological, and archaeological aspects of the ocean gained from exploration set the stage for future research and decision-making.

Through ocean exploration, we collect data and information needed to address both current and emerging science and management needs. Exploration helps to ensure that ocean resources are not just managed, but managed in a sustainable way, so those resources are around for future generations to enjoy. Exploration of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone is important for national security, allowing us to set boundaries, protect American interests, and claim ocean resources.

Unlocking the mysteries of ocean ecosystems can reveal new sources for medical therapies and vaccines, food, energy, and more as well as inspire inventions that mimic adaptations of deep-sea animals. Information from ocean exploration can help us understand how we are affecting and being affected by changes in Earth’s environment, including changes in weather and climate. Insights from ocean exploration can help us better understand and respond to earthquakes, tsunamis, and other hazards.

The challenges met while exploring the ocean can provide the impetus for new technologies and engineering innovations that can be applied in other situations, allowing us to respond more effectively in the face of an ocean crisis, such as an oil spill. And, ocean exploration can improve ocean literacy and inspire young people to seek critical careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

As a species, humans are naturally inquisitive — curiosity, desire for knowledge, and quest for adventure motivate modern explorers even today. And if all of these examples don’t provide enough reasons to explore the ocean, well, ocean exploration is also just cool (if you need it: proof).

The NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research is the only federal program dedicated to exploring the deep ocean, closing prominent gaps in our basic understanding of U.S. deep waters and the seafloor and delivering the ocean information needed to strengthen the economy, health, and security of our nation.