The distribution of marine organisms depends on the chemical and physical properties of seawater (temperature, salinity, and dissolved nutrients), on ocean currents (which carry oxygen to subsurface waters and disperse nutrients, wastes, spores, eggs, larvae, and plankton), and on penetration of light. Photosynthetic organisms (plants, algae, and cyanobacteria), the primary sources of food, exist only in the photic, or euphotic, zone (to a depth of about 300 ft/90 m), where light is sufficient for photosynthesis. Since only about 2% of the ocean floor lies in the photic zone, photosynthetic organisms in the benthos are far less abundant than photosynthetic plankton (phytoplankton), which is distributed near the surface oceanwide. Very abundant phytoplankton include the diatoms and dinoflagellates (see Dinoflagellata). Heterotrophic plankton (zooplankton) include such protozoans as the foraminiferans; they are found at all depths but are more numerous near the surface. Bacteria are abundant in upper waters and in bottom deposits.
The scientific study of marine biology dates from the early 19th cent. and now includes laboratory study of organisms for their usefulness to humans and the effects of human activity on marine environments. Important marine biological laboratories include those at Naples, Italy; at Plymouth and Millport in England; and at Woods Hole, Mass., La Jolla, Calif., and Coral Gables, Fla. Research has been furthered by unmanned and manned craft, such as the submersible Alvin.
See also oceanography.
See R. Carson, The Sea Around Us (rev. ed. 1961); R. Ballard, Exploring Our Living Planet (1983); M. Banks, Ocean Wildlife (1989); W. J. Broad, The Universe Below (1997).
Marine biology is the scientific study of living organisms in the ocean or other marine or brackish bodies of water. Given that in biology many phyla, families and genera have some species that live in the sea and others that live on land, marine biology classifies species based on the environment rather than on taxonomy. Marine biology differs from marine ecology as marine ecology is focused on how organisms interact with each other and environment and biology is the study of the animal it self.
Marine life is a vast resource, providing food, medicine, and raw materials, in addition to helping to support recreation and tourism all over the world. At a fundamental level, marine life helps determine the very nature of our planet. Marine organisms contribute significantly to the oxygen cycle, and are involved in the regulation of the earth's climate. Shorelines are in part shaped and protected by marine life, and some marine organisms even help create new land.
Marine biology covers a great deal, from the microscopic, including most zooplankton and phytoplankton, where zooplankton can be as small as 0.02 micrometers or as big as 2 meters in the case of the sunfish to the huge cetaceans (whales) which reach up to a reported 48 meters (125 feet) in length.
The habitats studied by marine biology include everything from the tiny layers of surface water in which organisms and abiotic items may be trapped in surface tension between the ocean and atmosphere, to the depths of the abyssal trenches, sometimes 10,000 meters or more beneath the surface of the ocean. It studies habitats such as coral reefs, kelp forests, tidepools, muddy, sandy and rocky bottoms, and the open ocean (pelagic) zone, where solid objects are rare and the surface of the water is the only visible boundary.
A large amount of all life on Earth exists in the oceans. Exactly how large the proportion is still unknown. While the oceans comprise about 71% of the Earth's surface, due to their depth they encompass about 300 times the habitable volume of the terrestrial habitats on Earth.
Many species are economically important to humans, including food fish. It is also becoming understood that the well-being of marine organisms and other organisms are linked in very fundamental ways. The human body of knowledge regarding the relationship between life in the sea and important cycles is rapidly growing. These cycles include those of matter (such as the carbon cycle) and of air (such as Earth's respiration, and movement of energy through ecosystems). Large areas beneath the ocean surface still remain effectively unexplored.
Other subfields study the physical effects of continual immersion in sea water and the ocean in general, adaptation to a salty environment, and the effects of changing various oceanic properties on marine life. A subfield of marine biology studies the relationships between oceans and ocean life, and global warming and environmental issues (such as carbon dioxide displacement).
Recent marine biotechnology has focused largely on marine biomolecules, especially proteins, that may have uses in medicine or engineering. Marine environments are the home to many exotic biological materials that may inspire biomimetic materials.
Microscopic life undersea is incredibly diverse and still poorly understood. For example, the role of viruses in marine ecosystems is barely being explored even in the beginning of the 21st century.
The role of phytoplankton is better understood due to their critical position as the most numerous primary producers on Earth. Phytoplankton are categorized into cyanobacteria (also called blue-green algae/bacteria), various types of algae (red, green, brown, and yellow-green), diatoms, dinoflagellates, euglenoids, coccolithophorids, cryptomonads, chrysophytes, chlorophytes, prasinophytes, and silicoflagellates.
Zooplankton tend to be somewhat larger, and not all are microscopic. Many Protozoa are zooplankton, including dinoflagellates, zooflagellates, foraminiferans, and radiolarians. Some of these (such as dinoflaggelates) are also phytoplankton; the plant/animal distinction often breaks down in very small organisms. Other zooplankton include cnidarians, ctenophores, chaetognaths, molluscs, arthropods, urochordates, and annelids such as polychaetes. Many larger animals begin their life as zooplankton before they become large enough to take their familiar forms. Two examples are fish larvae and sea stars (also called starfish).
Reefs comprise some of the densest and most diverse habitats in the world. The best-known types of reefs are tropical coral reefs which exist in most tropical waters; however, reefs can also exist in cold water. Reefs are built up by corals and other calcium-depositing animals, usually on top of a rocky outcrop on the ocean floor. Reefs can also grow on other surfaces, which has made it possible to create artificial reefs. Coral reefs also support a huge community of life, including the corals themselves, their symbiotic zooxanthellae, tropical fish and many other organisms.
Much attention in marine biology is focused on coral reefs and the El Niño weather phenomenon. In 1998, coral reefs experienced a "once in a thousand years" bleaching event, in which vast expanses of reefs across the Earth died because sea surface temperatures rose well above normal. Some reefs are recovering, but scientists say that 58% of the world's coral reefs are now endangered and predict that global warming could exacerbate this trend.
Other notable oceanic trenches include Monterey Canyon, in the eastern Pacific, the Tonga Trench in the southwest at 10,882 m (35,702 ft), the Philippine Trench, the Puerto Rico Trench at 8605 m (28232 ft), the Romanche Trench at 7760 m (24450 ft), Fram Basin in the Arctic Ocean at 4665 m (15305 ft), the Java Trench at 7450 m (24442 ft), and the South Sandwich Trench at 7235 m (23737 ft).
In general, the deep sea is considered to start at the aphotic zone, the point where sunlight loses its power of transference through the water. Many life forms that live at these depths have the ability to create their own light.
Much life centers on seamounts that rise from the deeps, where fish and other sea life congregate to spawn and feed. Hydrothermal vents along the mid-ocean ridge spreading centers act as oases, as do their opposites, cold seeps. Such places support unique biomes and many new microbes and other lifeforms have been discovered at these locations.
Shore habitats span from the upper intertidal zones to the area where land vegetation takes prominence. It can be underwater anywhere from daily to very infrequently. Many species here are scavengers, living off of sea life that is washed up on the shore. Many land animals also make much use of the shore and intertidal habitats. A subgroup of organisms in this habitat bores and grinds exposed rock through the process of bioerosion.
Most ocean life breeds in specific places, nests or not in others, spends time as juveniles in still others, and in maturity in yet others. Scientists know little about where many species spent different parts of their life cycles. For example, it is still largely unknown where sea turtles travel. Tracking devices do not work for some life forms, and the ocean is not friendly to technology.
Source: List of biologists.