Ocean Floor

Our home, the Earth, is covered two-thirds by water. This area of the earth remains as the most unexplored part of our home planet.

Many strange creatures and unusual geologic formations occur under the surface of the ocean. Deep-sea trenches drop to 5 miles deep and giant mountain ranges stretch for 6000 miles in length and reach heights equal to any mountain found above the surface of the oceans. Tubeworms, bizarre crabs, and giant clams live near geysers of hot water created by molten material at great depths in total darkness. Bizarre fish use bioluminescence to attract prey. Much opportunity for research and discovery await scientists as we learn to develop technology to explore this vast region of our home, the earth.

Undersea trenches are counted as the deepest depressions anywhere on the surface of the earth. The deepest is the Mariana trench in the Pacific Ocean, which drops to over 5 miles below the surface. These deep-sea trenches have not been explored thoroughly. We do know that they are one of the most active geological areas on earth. These deep trenches are found at the edges of the earth’s plates and are the subducting zones where crust material drops back into the mantle. This material eventually, over millions of years, will return to the surface at the mid ocean ridges as they spread and grow upward.

Mid ocean ridges form from volcanic activity as the continental plates move apart allowing magma to flow upward to form new crust material. These areas under the surface of our oceans hold promise of great mineral resources as they are being built of magma that holds fluids rich in the basic minerals that form ores such as copper, silver, gold, lead, and zinc. Hot geysers that occur in other areas of the ocean also carry ore minerals to the surface. These hot springs are referred to as “black smokers” because they carry dark colored materials such as iron, copper, zinc and nickel and appear to be dark smoke billowing up from the ocean floor. These mineral rich geysers, as mentioned, are the home to life forms that do not depend on sunlight to live as all other life does. In the future, it is possible that we will learn to harvest these rich deposits of ore as a source of needed raw material as supplies run low on the continents above the ocean depths.

Some areas of mid ocean ridges form regular evenly spaced ridges such as the ones illustrated here. Scientists theorize that this area of the continental plate moves relatively quickly thus allowing the low, regular formation as opposed to other slower moving areas that cause higher and more ragged formations. These more closely resemble fault Block Mountains such as the ones found on dry land.

The most visible evidence of the theory of plate tectonics can be observed in these ocean floor areas, as the basic forces that drive the movements of the plates are geologically younger in these areas, and other factors such as weather-induced erosion that occurs on dry land are not present.

Many of the theories of geological forces are rather new as knowledge in the history of science. Much of what we know now has only been learned in the last 100 years. Although the theory of Plate Tectonics is now widely accepted, it should be noted that some of the aspects of the theory are still in dispute.

One good example of controversy is the subject of “Hot Spots”. The Island chain of Hawaii is commonly accepted to have formed as the result of the Pacific plate drifting over a stationary “Hot Spot” that allowed molten material to flow upward to form volcanic islands.

As periods of volcanic activity ebb and flow, islands will form and move beyond the hot spot and allow a new island to form as the activity starts up again. Much evidence is available to confirm this activity such as age of rocks, types of vegetation, signs of weathering and erosion as well as animal population. Other evidences such as volcano formation under the ocean in a direct line all the way from Hawaii to Alaska further support this theory. Yet there is still controversy and competing theory as to the exact nature of the “Hot Spots”. How they remain stationary is not well understood and some scientists do not accept the concept that they are stationary at all.

Whether we are talking about ancient mountains, such as our own Green Mountains in Vermont, about brand new land that is forming as a result of fissure volcanoes on Iceland, exploring the vast unknown regions under the ocean surface, or researching ancient animal life, like Raymond our Triceratops, the opportunities for our young students to be the first to discover are very real and possible. If you are here as a student, we suggest you study hard and learn to love what you study because you very well could be the one to uncover the next big find or come up with the answer to some of our remaining mysteries of the earth!