An ocean (from Greek Ωκεανός, Okeanos (Oceanus)) is a major body of saline water, and a principal component of the hydrosphere. Approximately 71% of the Earth's surface (an area of some 361 million square kilometers) is covered by ocean, a continuous body of water that is customarily divided into several principal oceans and smaller seas. More than half of this area is over 3,000 meters (9,800 ft) deep. Average oceanic salinity is around 35 parts per thousand (ppt) (3.5%), and nearly all seawater has a salinity in the range of 30 to 38 ppt.
The oceans cover ¾ of the earth’s surface and have great impact on the biosphere. The evaporation of these oceans is how we get most of our rainfall, and their temperature determines our climate and wind pattern. Life within the ocean had already evolved 3 billion years prior to the movement of animal and plant life on land. The amount of life and distance from shore (abiotic factor) effects the major distribution of marine biomes. Animals such as algae, barnacles and mussels who live within the intertidal zone (land meets ocean) will fix themselves to rocks so they do not get washed from the resulting tides. The ocean is home to many species and consists of several other zones such as pelagic, benthic (sea floor), photic, and aphotic.
Geologically, an ocean is an area of oceanic crust covered by water. Oceanic crust is the thin layer of solidified volcanic basalt that covers the Earth's mantle where there are no continents. From this perspective, there are three oceans today: the World Ocean and the Caspian and Black Seas, the latter two having been formed by the collision of Cimmeria with Laurasia. The Mediterranean Sea is very nearly a discrete ocean, being connected to the World Ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar, and indeed several times over the last few million years movement of the African continent has closed the strait off entirely. The Black Sea is connected to the Mediterranean through the Bosporus, but this is in effect a natural canal cut through continental rock some 7,000 years ago, rather than a piece of oceanic sea floor like the Strait of Gibraltar.
The area of the World Ocean is 361 million square kilometers (139 million sq mi), its volume is approximately 1.3 billion cubic kilometers (310 million cu mi), and its average depth is 3,790 meters (12,430 ft). Nearly half of the world's marine waters are over 3,000 meters (9,800 ft) deep. The vast expanses of deep ocean (anything below 200m) cover about 66% of the Earth's surface. This does not include seas not connected to the World Ocean, such as the Caspian Sea.
A common misconception is that the oceans are blue primarily because the sky is blue. In fact, water has a very slight blue color that can only be seen in large volumes. While the sky's reflection does contribute to the blue appearance of the surface, it is not the primary cause. The primary cause is the absorption by the water molecules' nuclei of red photons from the incoming light, the only known example of color in nature resulting from vibrational, rather than electronic, dynamics.
Travel on the surface of the ocean through the use of boats dates back to prehistoric times, but only in modern times has extensive underwater travel become possible.
The deepest point in the ocean is the Marianas Trench located in the Pacific Ocean near the Northern Mariana Islands. It has a maximum depth of 10,923 meters (35,838 ft) . It was fully surveyed in 1951 by the British naval vessel, "Challenger II" which gave its name to the deepest part of the trench, the "Challenger Deep". In 1960, the Trieste successfully reached the bottom of the trench, manned by a crew of two men.
Much of the bottom of the world's oceans are unexplored and unmapped. A global image of many underwater features larger than 10 kilometers (6 mi) was created in 1995 based on gravitational distortions of the nearby sea surface.
Along with pelagic aphotics zones there are also benthic aphotic zones, these correspond to the three deepest zones. The bathyal zone covers the continental slope and the rise down to about 4,000 m. The abyssal zone covers the abyssal plains between 4,000 and 6,000 m. Lastly, the hadal zone corresponds to the hadalpelagic zone which is found in the oceanic trenches. The pelagic zone can also be split into two subregions, the neritic zone and the oceanic zone. The neritic encompasses the water mass directly above the continental shelves, while the oceanic zone includes all the completely open water. In contrast, the littoral zone covers the region between low and high tide and represents the transitional area between marine and terrestrial conditions. It is also known as the intertidal zone because it is the area where tide level affects the conditions of the region.
The oceans are essential to transportation: most of the world's goods are moved by ship between the world's seaports. Important ship canals include the Saint Lawrence Seaway, Panama Canal, and Suez Canal. They are also an important source of valuable food items for the fishing industry. Some of these are shrimp, fish, crabs and lobster.
Continental drift has reconfigured the Earth's oceans, joining and splitting ancient oceans to form the current oceans. Ancient oceans include:
There is currently much debate over whether Mars once had an ocean of water in its northern hemisphere, and over what happened to it if it did; recent findings by the Mars Exploration Rover mission indicate it had some long-term standing water in at least one location, but its extent is not known.
Liquid hydrocarbons are thought to be present on the surface of Titan, though it may be more accurate to describe them as "lakes" rather than an "ocean." The Cassini-Huygens space mission initially discovered only what appeared to be dry lakebeds and empty river channels, suggesting that Titan had lost what surface liquids it might have had. A more recent fly-by of Titan made by Cassini has produced radar images that strongly suggest hydrocarbon lakes near the polar regions where it is colder. Titan is also thought likely to have a subterranean water ocean under the mix of ice and hydrocarbons that forms its outer crust.
Beyond the solar system, Gliese 581 c is at the right distance from its sun for liquid water to exist on the planet's surface. Since it does not transit its sun, there is no way to know if there is any water there. HD 209458b may have water vapour in its atmosphere--this is currently being disputed. Gliese 436 b is believed to have "hot ice." Neither of these planets are cool enough for liquid water--but if water molecules exist there, they are also likely to be found on planets at a suitable temperature.