Humans have been exploring the seas from the earliest days of recorded history. Yet we still famously know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the oceans on this planet. These are some of the most significant events in the history of our ongoing discovery of our watery world.
Once upon a time…
Ocean diving began around 4500 BC, when coastal cultures such as Greece and China began diving into the sea to gather food and engage in commerce. Between 1000 – 500 BC deep diving started with fishermen who dived as deep as 30 metres by holding onto a heavy rock, according to the Greek poet Homer. Soon, divers played their part in warfare by diving to remove underwater obstacles from the harbour, ensuring the safety of their ships. By 150 BC, the first diving bells had been designed, the circumference of the Earth had been discovered and Ptolemy, the Greek astronomer and geographer, had produced a map of the ancient world that included Europe, Asia, Africa and their surrounding oceans.
Out of the BC and into the AD
There were many developments through this time, the first goggles and magnetic needle compasses were invented, Polynesian exploration and colonisation began and so did Viking expeditions. All these happened before 1100 AD. Over the next 700 years, we would see the first recorded circumnavigation of the world by Ferdinand Magellan, Admiral Zheng He and his fleet sailing as far as Australia and Africa, among various sea voyages by astute members of history. As time slowly progressed to the mid to late 1800s, major discoveries were made. The first deep sea canyons and deep sea life were discovered, and the first chart of the gulf stream was made. The Challenger Report was also consolidated, forming the basis of modern oceanography.
Moving into the 20th century and eventually, today.
As technology advanced over the past century, there were many milestones in the expansive exploration of the ocean. We have been able to map the ocean floor, find the deepest ocean point in the Mariana Trench and discover the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. A live Coelacanth was also found, a living fossil thought to be extinct. Also important were the invention of magnetic stripping and the first deep ocean dive, all before 1960. In the mid to late 1900s, scientists have found hydrothermal vents and they were also able to map the seafloor from space, a big leap in science from the initial Challenger Report in 1872.
In 2003, scientific research showed that we have lost 90 percent of the ocean’s predatory fish. However, fisheries continue with ‘business as usual’ despite the alarming evidence. Since then, we have completed the first global census of marine life, while revealing the true rate of global warming – that it had been underestimated and in the last 15 years, the actual warming was twice as much as estimated. Of course, we made positive discoveries too, such as underground oceans and a lost continent, and scientists have been able to travel down to the Mariana Trench for an expedition.
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