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382

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I
ow deep is the ocean? How much of Earth is covered by the global sea? What does the
J" seaoor look like? Humans have long been interested in finding answers to these questions,
but it was not until rather recently that these seemingly simple questions could be answered.
Suppose, for example, that all of the water were drained from the ocean. I/Vhat would we see? Plains?
Mountains? Canyons? Plateaus? Indeed, the ocean conceals all of these features, and more. And what
about the carpet of sediment that covers much of the seaoor? Vtfhere did it come from, and what can
be learned by examining it? This chapter provides answers to these questions.
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FOCUS om CONCEPTS
To assist you in learning the important concepts in this chapter, focus on the following questions:
T

What is oceanography?
What is the extent and distribution of the worlds oceans?
Q; What techniques are used to map the ocean oor?
How does a passive continental margin differ from an active continental margin?
What are the major features of the deep-ocean basin?
How are mid-ocean ridges and deep-ocean trenches related to plate tectonics boundaries?
What are the various types of seaoor sediments? How can these sediments be used to study worldwide
climate change?

The Vast World Ocean

19 percent is land. It is no wonder then that the Northern Hemisphere is called the land hernispliere and the Southern Hemi-

Calling Earth the water planet is certainly appropriate, because

sphere the water hemisphere.


-1 shows the distribution of land and water in the

nearly 71 percent of its surface is covered by the global ocean

(P "
. -). Although the ocean comprises a much greater percentage of Earths surface than the continents, it has only been
in the relatively recent past that the ocean became an impor-

Northern and Southern hemispheres. Between latitudes 45 degrees north and 70 degrees north, there is actually more land than

tant focus of study. Oceanography is an interdisciplinary


science that draws on the methods and knowledge of geology,
chemistry, physics, and biology to study all aspects of the world

water, whereas between 40 degrees south and 65 degrees south


there is almost no land to interrupt the oceanic and atmospheric
circulation.
The world ocean can be divided into four main ocean basins

ocean.

[Figure l3.2B):

Geography of the Oceans


The area of Earth is about 510 million square kilometers
(197 million square miles). Of this total, approximately 360 million square kilometers (140 million square miles), or 71 percent, is represented by oceans and marginal seas (meaning

seas around the oceans margin, like the Mediterranean Sea and
Caribbean Sea). Continents and islands comprise the remaining 29 percent, or 150 million square kilometers (58 million
square miles).
Clearly, oceans dominate Earths surface. But is the distribution ofland and water similar in the Northern and Southern hemispheres? By studying a world map or globe (Figure 13.1), it is
readily apparent that the continents and oceans are not evenly
divided between the two hemispheres. In the Northern Hemi-

sphere, for instance, nearly 61 percent of the surface is water,


whereas about 39 percent is land. In the Southern Hemisphere, on
the other hand, almost 81 percent of the surface is water, and only

1. The Pacic Ocean, which is the largest ocean and the


largest single geographic feature on the planet, accounts
for over half of the ocean surface area on Earth. In fact,
the Pacic Ocean is so large that all of the continents
could t into the space occupied by itwith room left

over! It is also the worlds deepest ocean, with an average


depth of 3,940 meters (12,927 feet or about 2.5 miles).
2. The Atlantic Ocean, which is about half the size of the

Pacific Ocean and not quite as deep. It is a relatively narrow ocean as compared to the Pacific and is bounded by
almost parallel continental margins.
3. The Indian Ocean, which is slightly smaller than the
Atlantic Ocean but has about the same average depth.

Unlike the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, it is largely a


Southern Hemisphere water body.
4. The Arctic Ocean, which is about 7 percent the size of the
Pacific Ocean and is only a little more than one-quarter as

deep as the rest of the oceans.

The Vast World Ocean


Northern
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FIGURE: 33.1 These views of Earth show the uneven distribution of land and water between the Northern and Southern
Hemispheres. Almost 81 percent of the Southern Hemisphere is covered by the oceans20 percent more than the Northern
Hemisphere.

that ifEarths solid mass were perfectly smooth (level) and spherical, the oceans would cover Earths entire surface to a uniform
depth of more than 2,000 meters (1.2 miles)!

Oceanographers also recognize an additional ocean near the


continent ofAntarctica in the Southern Hemisphere (Figure 13.2B).
Defined by the meeting of currents near Antarctica called the
Antarctic Convergence, the Southern Ocean orAntarctic Ocean is
actually those portions of the Pacic, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans
south of about 50 degrees south latitude.

CONCEPT cnscrc 1 3.1


Q How does the area of Earths surface covered by the oceans
comp are with that of the continents? Contrast the distribution of land and water in the Northern Hemisphere and the
Southern Hemisphere.
Q Excluding the Southern Ocean, name the four main ocean
basins. Contrast them in terms of area and depth.
Q How does the average depth of the oceans compare to the
average elevation of the continents?

Comparing the Oceans to the Continents


A major difference between continents and the ocean basins is
their relative levels. The average elevation ofthe continents above
sea level is about 840 meters (2,756 feet), whereas the average
depth of the oceans is nearly four and a half times this amount3,729 meters (12,234 feet). The volume of ocean water is so large

FIGURE 13.2 Distribution of land and water. A. The graph shows the amount of land and water in each 5-degree latitude belt.
B. The world map provides a more familiar view.
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384

CHAPTER 13 The Ocean Floorf

An Emerging Picture
of the Ocean Floor

devices that used sound to measure water depth, called echo


sounders, were developed early in the 20th century. Echo sounders
work by transmitting a sound wave (called a ping) into the water
in order to produce an echo when it bounces off any object, such
as a large marine organism or the ocean oor
"j=i"i.fF?1.."1i A
sensitive receiver intercepts the echo reected from the bottom,
and a clock precisely measures the travel time to fractions of a
second. By knowing the speed of sound waves in waterabout
1,500 meters (4,900 feet) per second-and the time required for
the energy pulse to reach the ocean oor and return, depth can
be calculated. Depths determined from continuous monitoring
of these echoes are plotted to create a profile of the ocean oor.
By laboriously combining profiles, a chart of the seaoor can be
produced.

The Global Ocean

as rifleQ1-ME > Floor of the Ocean


If all water were drained from the ocean basins, a great variety of
features would be seen, including broad volcanic peaks, deep
trenches, extensive plains, linear mountain chains, and large
plateaus. In fact, the scenery would be nearly as diverse as that
on the continents.

Mapping the Seafloor

Following World War II, the U.S. Navy developed sidescan

sonar to look for explosive devices that had been deployed in shipping lanes. These torpedo-shaped instruments, can be towed
behind a ship where they send out a fan of sound extending to
either side of the ships track. By combining swaths of sidescan
sonar data, researchers produced the first photograph-like images
of the seaoor. Although sidescan sonar provides valuable views
ofthe seaoor, it does not provide bathymetric (water depth) data.
This drawback was resolved in the 1990s with the development of high-resolution multibeam sonar instruments. These systems use hull-motmted sound sources that send out a fan of sound,
then record reections from the seaoor through a set ofnarrowly
focused receivers aimed at different angles (Figure 13.4B). Rather
than obtaining the depth of a single point every few seconds, this
technique makes it possible for a survey ship to map the features
ofthe ocean oor along a strip tens of kilometers wide. These systems can collect bathymetric data of such high resolution that they
can distinguish depths that differ by less than a meter
1? it 1%).
When multibeam sonar is used to make a map of a section of
seaoor, the ship travels through the area in a regularly spaced
back-and-forth pattern known as mowing the lawn.

The complex nature of ocean-oor topography did not unfold

until the historic 3- 1/2 year voyage of the HMS Challenger


From December 1872 to May 1876, the Challenger
expedition made the rst comprehensive study ofthe global ocean
ever attempted. During the 127,500-kilometer (79,200-mile) voy-

age, the ship and its crew of scientists traveled to every ocean
except the Arctic. Throughout the voyage, they sampled a multitude of ocean properties, including water depth, which was
accomplished by laboriously lowering long weighted lines over-

board. The knowledge gained by the Challenger of the oceans


great depth and varied topography expanded with the laying of
transatlantic telegraph cables. A far better understanding of
the seaoor emerged with the development of modem instruments that measure ocean depths. Bathymetry (bathos = depth,
rnetzy = measurement) is the measurement of ocean depths and
the charting of the shape or topography of the ocean oor.
Modern Bathymetric Techniques Today, sound energy is
used to measure water depths. The basic approach employs
sonar, an acronym for sound navigation and ranging. The first

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measurements of the ocean were made aboard the
HMS Challenger during its historic 3-1/2 year voyage.
Inset shows the route of the HMS Challenger, which
departed England in December 1872 and returned in
May 1 8'76. (From C. W. Thompson and Sir John Murray, Report
on the Scientific Results of the Voyage of the HMS Challenger,
Vol. 1, Great Britain: Challenger Office, 1895, Plate 1. Library of
Congress.)

An Emerging Picture of the Ocean Floor

conversely, canyons and trenches


cause slight depressions. In essence,
subtle ocean surface irregularities
mimic the shape of the underlying
seaoor. Satellites equipped with
radar altirneters are able to measure
these subtle differences by bounc-

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" '. 1' Types of sonar. A. An echo sounder determines the
water depth by measuring the time interval required for an acoustic
wave to travel from a ship to the seaoor and back. The speed of
sound in water is 1,500 m/sec. Therefore, depth = 1/2 (1,500 m/sec ><
echo travel time). B. Modern multibeam sonar and sidescan sonar
obtain an "image" of a narrow swath of seaoor every few seconds.

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traditional sonar depth measurements, the data are used to produce

detailed ocean-oor maps, such as the one shown in Figure 1.18


(pp. 20-21).

Seismic Reflection Profiles


Marine geologists are also interested in viewing the rock struc-

ture beneath the sediments that blanket much of the seaoor.


This can be accomplished by making a seismic reection prole.
To construct such a prole, strong low-frequency sounds are produced by explosions (depth charges) or air guns. These sound
waves penetrate beneath the seaoor and reect off the contacts

Despite their greater efficiency and enhanced detail, research


vessels equipped with multibeam sonar travel at a mere 10-20 kilo-

meters (6-12 miles) per hour. It would take at least 100 vessels outfitted with this equipment hundreds of years to map the entire
seaoor. This explains why only about 5 percent of the seaoor
has been mapped in detail-and why large portions ofthe seaoor
have not yet been mapped with sonar at all.

A satellite altimeter measures the variation in sea


surface elevation, which is caused by gravitational attraction and
mimics the shape of the seaoor. The sea surface anomaly is the
difference between the measured and theoretical ocean surface.

Viewing the Ocean Floor from Space Another technological breakthrough that has led to an enhanced understanding
of the seaoor involves measuring the shape of the ocean surface
from space. After compensating for waves, tides, currents, and
atmospheric effects, it was discovered that the ocean surface is
not perfectly at because gravity attracts water toward regions
where massive seaoor features occur. Therefore, mountains
and ridges produce elevated areas on the ocean surface, and,

Radar altimeter

Color-enhanced perspective map of the seaoor and


coastal landforms in the Los Angeles area of California. The ocean
oor portion of this map was constructed from data collected using a
high-resolution mapping system. (U.S. Geological Survey)

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386

CHAPTER 13 The Ocean Floor

Provinces of the Ocean Floor


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Oceanographers studying the topography ofthe ocean oor have


delineated three major tmits: continental margins, the deep-ocean
basin, and the oceanic (mid-ocean) ridge. The map in Figure 13.3
outlines these provinces for the North Atlantic Ocean, and the
profile at the bottom of the illustration shows the varied topography. Such proles usually have their vertical dimension exaggerated many times-40 times in this caseto make topographic
features more conspicuous. Vertical exaggeration, however, makes
slopes shown in seaoor proles appear to be mach steeper than
they actually are.

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Q What is bathymetry?
Q Describe how satellites can be used to map the seaoor without
being able to directly observe it.
Q Vllhat are the three major provinces of the ocean oor?

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_Bnslfr'c oceanic crusts ? I . T sedmenf .

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Geologist: Sketch

Continental Margins

FIGURE 13.7 Seismic cross section and matching sketch across a


portion of the Madeira abyssal plain in the eastern Atlantic Ocean,
showing the irregular oceanic crust buried by sediments. (Image

The Global Ocean


P Floor of the Ocean

courtesy of Charles I-Iollister, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Rm ->E3n1 l'|'|

between rock layers and fault zones. Figure 13.7 shows a seismic
profile of a portion of the Madeira abyssal plain in the eastern
Atlantic. Although the seaoor is at, notice the irregular ocean
crust buried by a thick accumulation of sediments.

Two types of continental margins have been identied: passive


and active. Passive margins are found along most of the coastal
areas that surround the Atlantic Ocean, including the east coasts
of North and South America, as well as the coastal areas of western Europe and Africa. Passive margins are not associated with

FLGURE 13.8 Map view (above) and corresponding profile view (below) showing the major topographic divisions of the North Atlantic
Ocean. On the profile, the vertical scale has been expanded (exaggerated) by 40 times to make topographic features more conspicuous.
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and gravel deposits. The waters of the continental shelf also


contain many important fishing grounds, which are significant
sources of food.
The continental shelf tends to be relatively featureless; however, some areas are mantled by extensive glacial deposits and
thus are quite rugged. In addition, other continental shelves are
dissected by large valleys extending from the coastline into deeper
waters. Many of these shelf valleys are the seaward extensions
of river valleys on the adjacent landmass. They were excavated
during the Pleistocene epoch (Ice Age) when enormous quantities of water were stored in vast ice sheets on the continents.
This caused sea level to drop by 100 meters (330 feet) or more,

plate boundaries and therefore experience very little volcanism


and few earthquakes. Here, weathered materials eroded from the
adjacent landmass accumulate to form a thick, broad wedge of
relatively undisturbed sediments.
By contrast, active continental margins occur where oceanic
lithosphere is being subducted beneath the edge of a continent.
The result is a relatively narrow margin, consisting of highly
deformed sediments that were scraped from the descending
lithospheric slab and plastered against the margin of the overriding continent. Active continental margins are common around
the Pacific Rim, where they parallel deep oceanic trenches.

exposing large areas of the continental shelves (see Figure 6.21,

Passive Continental Margins

p. 172). Because of this drop in sea level, rivers extended their


courses, and land-dwelling plants and animals inhabited the
newly exposed portions of the continents.
Most continental shelves associated with passive margins, such
as along the East Coast of the United States, consist of shallowwater deposits that can reach several kilometers in thickness. Such
deposits have led researchers to conclude that these thick accumulations of sediment are produced along a gradually subsiding
continental margin.

The features comprising a passive continental margin include


the continental shelf, the continental slope, and the continental
1'iS 6

387

Continental Shelf The continental shelf is a gently sloping,


submerged surface extending from the shoreline toward the deepocean basin. Because it is underlain by continental crust, it is
clearly a ooded extension of the continents.
The continental shelfvaries greatly in width. Although almost
nonexistent along some continents, the shelf may extend seaward
as far as 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) along others. On average,
the continental shelf is about 80 kilometers (50 miles) wide and
130 meters (425 feet) deep at its seaward edge. The average inclination of the continental shelf is only about one-tenth of 1 degree,
a drop of only about 2 meters per kilometer (10 feet per mile). In
fact, the slope is so gentle that it would appear to an observer to
be a horizontal surface.
Although continental shelves represent only 7.5 percent of
the total ocean area, they have economic and political significance because they contain important mineral deposits, including large reservoirs of oil and natural gas, as well as huge sand

Continental Slope Marking the seaward edge of the continental shelf is the continental slope, a relatively steep zone (as
compared with the shelf) that marks the boundary between continental crust and oceanic crust (Figure 13.9). Although the inclination of the continental slope varies greatly from place to place,
it averages about 5 degrees and in places may exceed 25 degrees.
Furthermore, the continental slope is a relatively narrow feature,
averaging only about 20 kilometers (12 miles) in width.
Continental Rise In regions where trenches do not exist, the
steep continental slope merges into a more gradual incline known
as the continental rise where the slope drops to about one-third

Features of a passive continental margin, including the continental shelf, continental slope, and continental rise. The Atlantic
coast of North America is a good example of a passive margin. Note that the steepness of the slopes shown for the continental shelf and
continental slope are greatly exaggerated. The continental shelf has an average slope of one-tenth of 1 degree, whereas the continental slope
has an average slope of about 5 degrees.
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388

CHAPTER 13 The Ocean Floor

degree, or about 6 meters per kilometer (32 feet per mile).


\/Vhereas the width of the continental slope averages about 20 l<ilometers (l2 miles), the continental rise may extend for hundreds
of kilometers into the deep-ocean basin.
The continental rise consists of a thick accumulation of sediment that moved downslope from the continental shelf to the
deep-ocean floor. The sediments are delivered to the base of the
continental slope by turbidity currents that periodically ow down
submarine canyons. When these dense muddy currents emerge
from the mouth of a canyon onto the relatively at ocean oor,
they deposit sediment that forms a deep-sea fan (Figure 13.9). As
fans from adjacent submarine canyons grow, they merge laterally
with one another to produce a continuous covering of sediment at
the base of the continental slope that we call the continental rise.

and accumulating more sediment as it goes. The erosional work

accomplished by these muddy torrents is thought to be the


major force in the excavation of most submarine canyons.
Narrow continental margins, such as the one located along
the California coast, are dissected by numerous submarine
canyons. Here erosion has extended many of these canyons landward into shallow water. Sediments carried to the coasts by rivers
are transported along the shore by wave activity until they reach
a submarine canyon. This steady supply of sediment collects until
it becomes unstable and moves as a massive underwater landslide (turbidity current) to the floor of the deep-ocean basin.
Turbidity currents eventually lose momentum and come to
rest along the oor of the ocean basin. As these currents slow, the
suspended sediments begin to settle out. First, the coarser, heavier sand is dropped, followed by successively finer deposits of silt
and then clay. These deposits, called turbidites, are characterized
by a decrease in sediment grain size from bottom to top, a phenomenon known as graded bedding (Figure 13.10).
Turbidity currents are an important mechanism of sediment
transport in the ocean. By the action of turbidity currents, submarine canyons are eroded and sediments are deposited on the
deep-ocean floor.

Submarine Canyons and Turbidity Currents Deep, steepsided valleys known as submarine canyons are cut into the continental slope and may extend across the entire continental rise
to the deep-ocean basin
t
Although some of these
canyons appear to be the seaward extensions of river valleys many
others do not line up in this manner. Furthermore, submarine

canyons extend far below the maximum lowering of sea level during the Ice Age, so we cannot attribute their formation to stream
erosion.
These submarine canyons have probably been excavated by
turbidity currents (Figure 13.10). Turbidity currents are downslope movements of dense, sediment-laden water. They are created when sand and mud on the continental shelf and slope are
dislodged and thrown into suspension. Because such mud-choked
water is denser than normal seawater, it ows downslope, eroding

Active Continental Margins


Along active continental margins the continental shelf is very
narrow, if it exists at all, and the continental slope descends
abruptly into a deep-ocean trench. In these settings, the landward
wall of a trench and the continental slope are essentially the
same feature.

=:~.j'i"E
Turbidity currents are downslope movements of dense, sediment-laden water. They are created when sand and mud on the
continental shelf and slope are dislodged and thrown into suspension. Because such mud-choked water is denser than normal seawater, it hugs
the seaoor as it ows downslope, eroding and accumulating more sediment. Beds deposited by these currents are called turbidites. Each event
produces a single bed characterized by a decrease in sediment size from bottom to top, a feature known as a graded bed. (Photo by Marli Miller)
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plains; tall volcanic peaks called


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Deep-Ocean Trenches

Fiitiiiiili-iiii "Ii Active continental margin. Sediments from the ocean


oor are scraped from the descending plate and added to the
continental crust as an accretionary Wedge. The Pacific margin of
South America is an excellent example.

Active continental margins are located primarily around the


Pacific Ocean in areas where oceanic lithosphere is being subducted beneath the leading edge of a continent (l?i.g3tii"ra 3.3.l 1). In
such settings, sediments from the ocean oor and pieces of
oceanic crust are scraped from the descending oceanic plate
and plastered against the edge of the overriding continent. This
chaotic accumulation of deformed sediment and scraps of oceanic
crust is called an accretionary wedge. Prolonged plate subduction
can produce massive accumulations of sediment along active continental margins.
Some active margins have little or no sediment accumulation,
indicating that material is being carried into the mantle with the
subducting plate. In these locations the continental margin is very
narrow, as the trench may lie a mere 50 kilometers (31 miles)
offshore.

co1\1cr:1=-'1' cnrzcx 1 3. 3
Q List the three major features that comprise a passive continental margin. Which one is considered a ooded extension
of the continent? Which has the steepest slope?
Q Contrast active and passive continental margins. Provide a
specic geographic example of each.
Q What is a turbidity current? What is a tarbidite? What is meant
by the term graded bedding?

The Deep-Ocean Basin


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The Global Ocean


P Floor of the Ocean

Between the continental margin and the oceanic ridge lies the
deep-ocean basin (see Figure 13.8). The size of this region
almost 30 percent of Earths surfaceis roughly comparable to
the percentage of land that presently projects above sea level.
This region includes remarkably at areas known as abyssal

Deep-ocean trenches are long, relatively narrowtroughs that are the deepest parts of the ocean. Most trenches
' 'i
are located along the margins of the
Pacific Ocean
:'r;%i.'.;;@.) where
many exceed 10,000 meters (33,000 feet) in depth. A portion of
onethe Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trenchhas been measured at a record 1 1,022 meters (36, 163 feet) below sea level, making it the deepest known part ofthe world ocean. Only two trenches
are located in the Atlantic: the Puerto Rico Trench and the South
Sandwich Trench.
Although deep-ocean trenches represent only a very small
portion of the area of the ocean oor, they are nevertheless signicant geologic features. Trenches are sites of plate convergence
where slabs of oceanic lithosphere subduct and plunge back into
the mantle. In addition to earthquakes being created as one plate
scrapes beneath another, volcanic activity is also associated
with these regions. Thus, trenches are often paralleled by an
arc-shaped row of active volcanoes called a volcanic island arc.
Furthermore, continental volcanic arcs, such as those making up portions of the Andes and Cascades, are located parallel to trenches that lie adjacent to continental margins (see
Figure 13.1 1). The volcanic activity associated with the trenches
that surround the Pacic Ocean explains why the region is called
the Ring ofFire.

Abyssal Plains
Abyssal (a = without, byssus = bottom) plains are deep,
incredibly at features; in fact, these regions are likely the most
level places on Earth. The abyssal plain found off the coast of
Argentina, for example, has less than 3 meters (10 feet) of relief
over a distance exceeding 1,300 kilometers (800 miles). The
monotonous topography of abyssal plains is occasionally interrupted by the protruding summit of a partially buried volcanic
peak.
Using seismic profilers, instruments that generate signals
designed to penetrate far below the ocean oor, researchers
have determined that abyssal plains owe their relatively featureless topography to thick accumulations of sediment that
have buried an otherwise rugged ocean oor (see Figure 13.7).
The nature of the sediment indicates that these plains consist
primarily of sediments transported far out to sea by turbidity
currents.
Abyssal plains occur in all of the oceans. However, the Atlantic
Ocean has the most extensive abyssal plains because it has few
trenches to act as traps for sediment carried down the continental slope.

390

CHAPTER '13

The Ocean Floor

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~. Distribution of the worlds deep-ocean trenches and oceanic ridges.

Seamounts, Guyots, and Oceanic


Plateaus

large enough to become oceanic islands, but most do not have a


sufficiently long eruptive history to build a structure above sea level.
Although seamounts are found on the oors of all the oceans, they

Dotting the ocean oor are submarine volcanoes called seamounts,


which may rise hundreds of meters above the surrounding topography. It is estimated that more than a million exist. Some grow

are most common in the Pacic.

7",/"xi\./_.-L

t.ucl.ents Sometimes Ask...

Some, like the Hawaiian Island-Emperor Seamount chain that


stretches from the Hawaiian Islands to the Aleutian trench, form
over volcanic hot spots in association with mantle plumes (see
Figure 7.24, p. 213). Others are born near oceanic ridges. If the
volcano is large enough before it is carried from the magma source

by plate movement, the structure may emerge as an island. Exam-

Have humans ever explored the deepest ocean trenches?


Could anything live there?

ples in the Atlantic include Azores, Ascension, Tristan da Cunha,

Humans have indeed visited


the deepest part of the
oceanswhere there is crushing high pressure, complete
darkness, and near-freezing
water temperaturesmore than
50 years ago! In January 1960,
U.S. Navy Lt. Don Walsh and
explorer Jacques Piccard
descended to the bottom of the
Challenger Deep region of the
Mariana Trench in the deepdiving bathyscaphe Trieste. At
9,906 meters (32,500 feet), the
men heard a loud cracking

During the time they exist as islands, some of these volcanic


structures are lowered to near sea level by the forces of weathering and erosion. In addition, islands gradually sink and disappear

sound that shook the cabin.


They were unable to see that a
7.6-centimeter (3-inch) Plexi-

glas viewing port had cracked


(miraculously, it held for the
rest of the dive). More than
5 hours after leaving the surface, they reached the bottom
at 10,912 meters (35,800 feet)a record depth of human
descent that has not been broken since. They did see some
life-forms that are adapted to
life in the deep: a small atfish,
a shrimp, and some jellyfish.

and St. Helena.

below the water surface as the moving plate slowly carries them
away from the elevated oceanic ridge or hot-spot where they originated (Box 13.1). Submerged, at topped seamounts that formed
in this manner are called guyots.28
The ocean oor also contains several massive oceanic
plateaus, which resemble ood basalt provinces on the continents. Oceanic plateaus, which in some cases are more than
30 kilometers thick, were generated from vast outpourings of uid
basaltic lavas. Some oceanic plateaus appear to have formed

23"The term guyot is named after Princeton University's rst geology professor. It is pronounced "GEE-oh" with a hard g as in "give."

The Deep-Ocean Basin

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391.

Explaining Coral
At0llsDarwins
Hypothesis
Coral atolls are ring-shaped structures
that often extend from slightly above sea
level to depths of several thousand
meters (Figure 'l3.A). What causes atolls
to form, and how do they attain such
thicknesses?
Corals are tiny animals that generally
appear in large numbers, that link together
to form colonies. Most corals create a hard
external skeleton made of calcium carbonate. Some build large calcium carbonate
structures, called reefs, where new colonies
grow atop the strong skeletons of previous
colonies. Sponges and algae also attach to
the reef, enlarging it further.
Reef-building corals grow best in waters
with an average annual temperature of
about 24 C (75 F). They cannot survive prolonged exposure to temperatures below 18 C
(64 F) or above 30 C (86 F). In addition,
reef-builders require clear, sunlit water.
Consequently, the depth of most active reef
growth is limited to no more than about
45 meters (150 feet).
The environmental conditions required
for coral growth create an interesting
paradox: How can coralswhich require
warm, shallow, sunlit water no deeper
than a few dozen meterscreate thick
structures such as coral atolls that extend
to great depths?
Naturalist Charles Darwin was one of the
first to formulate a hypothesis on the origin
of ringed-shaped atolls. From 1831 to 1836
he sailed aboard the British ship HMS Beagle during its famous global circumnavigation. In various places Darwin noticed a
progression of stages in coral reef development from (1) a fringing reef along the margins of a volcano to (2) a barrier reef with a
volcano in the middle to (3) an atoll, consisting of a continuous or broken ring of coral
reef surrounding a central lagoon
(Figure 13.B). The essence of Darwin's
hypothesis, illustrated in Figure l3.B, was
that as a volcanic island slowly sinks, corals
continue to build the reef complex upward.

FIGURE 13.A An aerial view of Tetiaroa Atoll in the Pacific. The light blue waters of
the relatively shallow lagoon contrast with the dark blue color of the ocean surrounding
the 62011. (Photo by Douglas Peebles Photography/Alamy)

relatively stationary mantle plume, which


causes the lithosphere to be buoyantly
uplifted. Over a span of millions of years,
these volcanic islands become inactive and
gradually sink as the moving plate carries
them away from the region of hot-spot
volcanism (Figure 13.B).

During Darwin's time, however, there was


no plausible mechanism to account for how
an island might sink.
Currently, plate tectonics helps explain
how volcanic islands become extinct and
sink to great depths over long periods of
time. Some volcanic islands form over a

FIGURE 'l3.B Formation of a coral atoll due to the gradual sinking of oceanic crust and upward
growth of the coral reef. A fringing coral reef forms around an active volcanic island. As the
volcanic island moves away from the region of hot-spot activity it sinks, and the fringing reef
gradually becomes a barrier reef farther from shore. Eventually, the volcano is completely
submerged and an atoll remains.

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392

CHAPTER 13 The Ocean Floor

various ocean basins. Some ridges run


through the middle of ocean basins, where
,
,_
they are appropriately called mid-ocean
.
.(
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laska
bi: -*3,
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'5v~"'*
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H-35$ .FilseMid-Indian Ridge are examples. By contrast, the East Pacific Rise is not a midC?i|3a95*L-a3d"<*?'
0 , *-t__../ Hawaiian
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ocean feature. Rather, as its name implies,
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1
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the
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..
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"
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and the appearance of broad, elongated
J" a-I: Plateau
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swells that exhibit varying degrees of
ruggedness. Furthermore, the ridge system
1 %: .. Distribution of oceanic plateaus and other submerged
is broken into segments that range from a few tens to hundreds of
crustal fragments.
kilometers in length. Each segment is offset from the adjacent
segment by a transform fault.
Smrshov
.

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quicldy in geologic terms. Examples include the Ontong Iava,


which formed in less than 3 million years, and the Kerguelen
Plateau in 4.5 million years (It-
at -i).

1:
'=-i;-J.
The deep-diving submersible Alvin is 7.6 meters long,
weighs 16 tons, has a cruising speed of 1 knot, and can reach depths
as great as 4,000 meters (2.5 miles). A pilot and two scientific
observers are along during a normal 6- to 10-hour dive. (Courtesy of
Rod Catanach/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

CONCEPT cnscx 1 3 .4
Q Briey describe the size and extent of the oceanic ridge
system. With which type of plate boundary is it associated?
Q How do oceanic ridges differ from most mountain ranges on
the continents?
Q Why are oceanic ridges elevated?

The Oceanic Ridge


gm ->"'21Z-iOIf

The Global Ocean


P Floor of the Ocean

Along well-developed divergent plate boundaries, the seaoor is


elevated, forming a broad linear swell called the oceanic ridge, or
mid-ocean ridge. Our knowledge of the oceanic ridge system
comes from soundings ofthe ocean oor, core samples from deepsea drilling, visual inspection using deep-diving submersibles, and
even rsthand inspection of slices of ocean oor that have been
thrust onto dry land during continental collisions
.%<=1.:t=;;.= ti). At
oceanic ridges we nd extensive normal and strike-slip faulting,
earthquakes, high heat ow, and volcanism.

Anatomy of the Oceanic Ridge


The oceanic ridge system winds through all major oceans in a manner siniilar to the seam on a baseball, and is the longest topographic
feature on Earth, exceeding 70,000 kilometers (43,000 miles) in
length

5;.1; ..'>.1->). The crest of the ridge typically stands 2-3 kilo-

meters above the adjacent deep-ocean basins and marks the plate
boundary where new oceanic crust is created.
Notice in Figure 13.15 that large sections of the oceanic ridge
system have been named based on their locations within the

The Oceanic Ridge


I

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FIGURE 13.15 Distribution of the oceanic ridge system. The map shows ridge segments that exhibit slow, intermediate, and fast spreading rates.

la ,

Oceanic ridges are as high as some mountains on the continents; but the similarities end there. Whereas most mountain
ranges on land form when the compressional forces associated
with continental collisions fold and metamorphose thick sequences
of sedimentary rocks, oceanic ridges form where upwelling from
the mantle generates new oceanic crust. Oceanic ridges consist of
layers and piles of newly formed basaltic rocks that are buoyantly
uplifted by the hot mantle rocks from which they formed.
Along the axis of some segments of the oceanic ridge system
are deep, down-faulted structures called rift valleys because of
their striking similarity to the continental rift valleys found ir1 East
Africa (Figure 13.16). Some rift valleys, including those along the
rugged Mid-Atlantic Ridge, are typically 30-50 kilometers wide
and have walls that tower 500-2,500 meters above the valley oor.
This makes them comparable to the deepest and widest part of
Arizonas Grand Canyon.

It takes almost 80 million years of cooling and contraction for rock


that was once part of an elevated ocean-ridge system to relocate
to the deep-ocean basin.
FIGURE 13.16 The axis of some segments of the oceanic ridge
system contain deep downfaulted structures called rift valleys that
may exceed 30-50 kilometers in width and from 500 to 2,500 meters
in depth.
Rift

Vo|canoes<

Why Is the Oceanic Ridge Elevated?


The primary reason for the elevated position of the ridge
system is that newly created oceanic lithosphere is hot
and therefore less dense than cooler rocks of the
deep-ocean basin. As the newly formed basaltic
_I
crust travels away from the ridge crest, it is cooled
from above as seawater circulates through the
_
pore spaces and fractures in the rock. In addii
tion, it cools because it gets farther and farther from the zone ofhot mantle upwelling.
A
As a result, the lithosphere gradually cools,
l,
contracts, and becomes denser. This thermal contraction accounts for the greater
ocean depths that occur away from the ridge.
.

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394

CHAPTER 13 The Ocean Floor

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,.

Susan DeBari:
A Career in Geology
I discovered geology the summer I worked
doing trail maintenance in the North Cascade mountains of Washington State. I had
just finished my freshman year in college
and had never before studied Earth science.
But a coworker (now my best friend) began
to describe the geological features of the
mountains that we were hiking inthe classic cone shape of Mount Baker volcano, the
U-shaped glacial valleys, the advance of
active glaciers, and other wonders. I was
hooked and went back to college that fall
with a passion for geology that hasnt
abated. As an undergraduate, I worked as a
field assistant to a graduate student and did
a senior thesis project on rocks from the
Aleutian island arc.

ti was lreeired and


went ieaeir te eeiiege
that iaii vvitit a

passien ier geeiegy


that iraenit airated.
From that initial spark, island arcs have
remained my top research interest, on
through Ph.D. research at Stanford University, postdoctoral work at the University of
Hawaii, and as a faculty member at San
Jose State University and Western Washington University. Of most interest was the
deep crust of arcs, the material that lies
close to the Mohorovici discontinuity
(fondly known as the Moho). What kinds of
processes are occurring down there at the
base of the crust in island arcs? What is
the source of magmas that make their way
to the surfacethe mantle, or the deep
crust itself? How do these magmas interact
with the crust as they make their way
upward? What do these magmas look like
chemically? Are they very different from
what erupts at the surface? Obviously,
geologists cannot go down to the base of
the crust (typically 20 to 40 kilometers
beneath Earths surface). So what they do

is play a bit of a detective game. They


must use rocks that are now exposed at
the surface that were originally formed in
the deep crust of an island arc. The rocks
must have been brought to the surface
rapidly along fault zones to preserve their
original features. Thus, I can walk on rocks
of the deep crust without really leaving
Earths surface! There are a few places
around the world where these rare rocks
are exposed.

that has the capability to dive to


6500 meters below the surface of the
ocean (approximately 4 miles). My plan
was to take rock samples from the wall of
the trench at its deepest levels using the
submersibles mechanical arm. Because
preliminary data suggested that vast
amounts of rock were exposed for several
kilometers in a vertical sense, this could be
a great way to sample the deep arc basement. I dove in the submersible three

Each dive iasted nine ireurs, and was spent in a

spaee ne bigger than the treat seat at a Hands,


shared with twe dapanese piiets . . . it
times, reaching a maximum depth of
6497 meters. Each dive lasted nine hours,
and was spent in a space no bigger than
the front seat of a Honda, shared with two
Japanese pilots who controlled the submersibles movements. It was an exhilarating experience! I am now on the faculty at
Western Washington University, where I
continue to do research on the deep roots
of volcanic arcs, and get students involved
as well. I am also involved in science education training for K12 teachers, hoping
to get young people motivated to ask
questions about the fascinating world
that surrounds them!
Susan DeBari

Some of the places that I have worked


are the Chugach Mountains of Alaska, the
Sierras Pampeanas of Argentina, the
Karakorum Range in Pakistan, Vancouver
Island's west coast, and the North Cascades of Washington. Fieldwork has most
commonly involved hiking on foot, along
with extensive use of mules and trucks. I
also went looking for exposed pieces of the
deep crust of island arcs in a less obvious
placethe Izu Bonin trench, one of the
deepest oceanic trenches of the world.
Here I dove into the ocean in a submersible called the Shinkai 6500 (pictured
to my right in the background). The
Shinkai 6500 is a Japanese submersible

Susan DeBari photographed with the Japanese submersible, Shinkai 6500,


which she used to collect rock samples from the Izu Bonin trench. (Photo
courtesy of Susan DeBari)

g-

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Seafloor Sediments

395

Seafloor Sediments
Most of the ocean oor is covered with a blanket of sediment. Part
of this material has been deposited by turbidity currents, and the
rest has slowly settled onto the seaoor from above. The thickness
of this carpet of debris varies greatly. In some trenches, which act
as traps for sediment originating on the continental margin, accumulations may approach l0 kilometers (6 miles) in thickness.
In general, however, sediment accumulations are considerably
less. In the Pacic Ocean, for example, sediment thickness is about
600 meters (2,000 feet) or less, whereas on the oor ofthe Atlantic, the
thickness varies from about 500 to 1,000 meters (l,5003,000 feet).

of tiealloor Sedirrients
Seaoor sediments can be classified according to their origin

into three broad categories: (1) terrigenous (tetra = land,


generare = to produce); (2) biogenous (bio = life, generare =
to produce); and (3) hydrogenous (hydro = water, generare =
to produce). Although each category is discussed separately,
remember that all seaoor sediments are mixtures. No mass of
sediment comes from a single source.

.@.12=;t.'i.;igar ;=~.or:1.:-; r :ietiiri..t.e1r.i. Terrigenous sediment consists primarily of mineral grains that were weathered from continental
rocks and transported to the ocean. Larger particles (gravel and
sand) usually settle rapidly near shore, whereas finer particles
(microscopic clay-size particles) can take years to settle to the
ocean oor and may be carried thousands of kilometers by
ocean currents or transported far out to sea by the wind. As a
consequence, virtually every part of the ocean receives some
terrigenous sediment. The rate at which this sediment accumulates on the deep-ocean oor, however, is very slow. To form

a 1-centimeter (0.4-inch) abyssal clay layer, for example, requires


as much as 50,000 years. Conversely, on the continental margins near the mouths of large rivers, terrigenous sediment accumulates rapidly and forms thick deposits.

it i{I:lr.i..1l'.lt;%[ll

Biogenous sediment consists of shells

and skeletons of marine animals and algae

.2

it T-Iis.
Image from a scamnng electron microscope of a shell
(test) of foraminifera, an example of biogenous sediment. These tiny,
single-celled organisms are sensitive to even small uctuations in
temperature. Seaoor sediments containing fossils such as this are useful
recorders of climate change. (Photo by Andrew Syred/Photo Researchers, Inc.)

of diatoms (single-celled algae) and radiolarians (single-celled animals) that prefer cooler surface waters, whereas the latter is derived
from the bones, teeth, and scales ofsh and other marine organisms.
Hydrogenous Sediment Hydrogenous sediment consists of
minerals that crystallize directly from seawater through various
chemical reactions. Hydrogenous sediments represent a relatively
small portion of the overall sediment in the ocean. They do, however, have many different compositions and are distributed in
diverse environments of deposition.

This

debris is produced mostly by microscopic organisms living in sunlit waters near the ocean surface. Once these organisms die, their
hard tests (testa = shell) constantly rain down and accumulate
on the seaoor.

The most common biogenous sediment is calcareous (CaCO3)


ooze, which, as its name implies, has the consistency ofthick mud.
This sediment is produced from the tests of organisms such as
coccolithophores (single-celled algae) and foraminifera (small
organisms also calledforams, for short) that inhabit warm surface
waters. When calcareous tests slowly sink into deeper parts of the
ocean, they begin to dissolve. This occurs because the deeper,
cold seawater is richer in carbon dioxide and is thus more acidic
than warm water. In seawater deeper than about 4,500 meters
(15,000 feet), calcareous tests will completely dissolve before they
reach bottom. Consequently, calcareous ooze does not accumulate at these greater depths.
Other biogenous sediments include siliceous (SiO2) ooze and
pho sphate-rich material. The former is composed primarily of tests

Students Sometimes Ask...


Are diatoms an ingredient in diatomaceous earth, which
is used in swimming pool filters?
Not only are diatoms used as
swimming pool filters, they are
also used in a variety of everyday products, including toothpaste (yes, you're brushing your
teeth with the remains of dead
microscopic organismsl).
Diatoms secrete walls of silica
in a great variety of forms that
accumulate as sediments in
enormous quantities. Because
it is lightweight, chemically

stable, has high surface area,


and is highly absorbent,
diatomaceous earth has many
practical uses. The main uses of
diatoms include filters (for refining sugar, straining yeast from
beer, and filtering swimming
pool water); mild abrasives (in
household cleaning and polishing compounds and facial
scrubs); and absorbents (for
chemical spills).

396

CHAPTER 13 The Ocean Floor


sedimentary record. These seaoor sediments are useful recorders
of worldwide climate change because the numbers and types of
organisms living near the sea surface change with the climate:

ti
Manganese nodules, including some that are cut in
half, revealing their central nucleation object and layered internal
SlIU.Cl311I6. (Left photo by Charles A. Winters/Photo Researchers, Inc. Right photo by
J. and L. Weber/Peter Arnold, Inc.)

Some of the most common types of hydrogenous sediment


include:
0 Manganese nodules, which are rounded, hard lumps of
manganese, iron, and other metals that precipitate in concentric layers around a central object (such as a volcanic
pebble or a grain of sand) (Figtiirrrr tarts). The nodules can be
up to 20 centimeters (8 inches) in diameter and are often
littered across large areas of the deep seaoor.
0 Calcium carbonates, which form by precipitation directly
from seawater in warm climates. If this material is buried
and hardened, it forms limestone. Most limestone, however, is composed of biogenous sediment.
0 Metal suldes, which are usually precipitated as coatings
on rocks near black smokers associated with the crest of the
mid-ocean ridge. (see Box 14.2, p. 416). These deposits contain iron, nickel, copper, zinc, silver, and other metals in
varying proportions.
0 Evaporites, which form where evaporation rates are high
and there is restricted open-ocean circulation. As water
evaporates from such areas, the remaining seawater becomes saturated with dissolved minerals, which then begin
to precipitate. Heavier than seawater, they sink to the bottom or form a characteristic white crust of evaporite minerals around the edges of these areas. Collectively termed
salts, some evaporite minerals taste salty, such as halite
(common table salt, NaCl), and some do not, such as the
calcium sulfate minerals anhydrite (CaSO2) and gypsum
(CaSO,, - 2 H20).

Seafloor SedimentA Storehouse


of Climate Data
We know that the parts of the Earth system are linked so that a
change in one part can produce changes in any or all of the other
parts. In this example you will see how changes in atmospheric
and oceanic temperatures are reected in the nature of life in
the sea.

Most seaoor sediments contain the remains of organisms


that once lived near the sea surface (the ocean-atmosphere interface). Vlfhen such near-surface organisms die, their shells slowly
settle to the oor of the ocean, where they become part of the

We would expect that in any area of the ocean/ atmosphere


interface the average annual temperature of the surface water
of the ocean would approximate that of the contiguous atmosphere. The temperature equilibrium established between surface seawater and the air above it should mean that. . . changes
in climate should be reected in changes in organisms living
near the surface of the deep sea . . . . When we recall that the
seaoor sediments in vast areas of the ocean consist mainly of
shells of pelagic foraminifers, and that these animals are sensitive to variations in water temperature, the connection between
such sediments and climate change becomes obvious.

Thus, in seeking to tmderstand climate change as well as other


envlromnental transformations, scientists are tapping the huge reservoir of data in seaoor sediments
it.is). The sediment cores
gathered by drilling ships and other research vessels have provided
invaluable data that have signicantly expanded our knowledge and
tmderstanding ofpast climates (see Chapter-opening photo).
One notable example of the importance of seaoor sediments
to our understanding of climate change relates to unraveling the
uctuating atmospheric conditions of the Ice Age. The records of
temperature changes contained in cores of sediment from the
ocean oor have proven critical to our present understanding of
this recent span of Earth history?

CONCEPT cuscx 1 3. 5
Q Distinguish among the three basic types of seaoor sediments.
Give an example of each.
Q Why are seaoor sediments useful in studying past climates?

29Richard F. Flint, Glacial and Qua reumy Geology (New York: John Wiley 8: Sons, I971), p. 718.
For more information on this topic, see "Causes of Glaciation" in Chapter 6, page 174.

it Scientists working with a core of seaoor sediment.


Analysis of such cores provides useful data about the geologic past
and Earth's climate history. (Photo by Science Source/Photo Researchers, Inc.)

_ _

Resources from the Seafloor

397

Students Sometimes Ask...


Are there any areas of the ocean oor where no sediment
is being deposited?
Actually, there are a few places
in the ocean where very little
sediment accumulates. One
such place is along the continental slope, where there is
active erosion by turbidity and
other deep-ocean currents.
Another place where very little
sediment can be found is along

the mid-ocean ridge. The


seaoor along the crest of the
mid-ocean ridge is so young
(because of seaoor spreading)
and the rates of sediment accumulation far from land are so
slow that there hasn't been
enough time for sediments to
accumulate.

Resources from the Seafloor


The seaoor is rich in mineral and organic resources. Most, however, are not easily accessible, and recovery involves technological challenges and high cost. Nevertheless, certain resources have
high value and thus make appealing exploration targets.

Energy Resources
Among the nonliving resources extracted from the oceans, more
than 95 percent of the economic value comes from energy products. The main energy products are oil and natural gas, which are
currently being extracted, and gas hydrates, which are not yet utilized but have vast potential.

NOIl2h Sea. (Photo by Peter Bowater/Photo Researchers, Inc.)

Oil and Natural Gas The ancient remains of microscopic


organisms, buried within marine sediments before they could
completely decompose, are the source of todays deposits of oil
and natural gas. The percentage of world oil produced from offshore regions has increased from trace amounts in the 1930s to
more than 30 percent today. Most of this increase results from
continuing technological advancements employed by offshore
drilling platforms
'.=f.;.f-ta).
Major offshore reserves exist in the Persian Gulf, in the Gulf of
Mexico, off the coast of southern California, in the North Sea, and
in the East Indies. Additional reserves are probably located off the
north coast of Alaska and in the Canadian Arctic, Asian seas,
Africa, and Brazil. Because the likelihood of finding major new
reserves on land is small, future offshore exploration will continue to be important, especially in deeper waters of the continental margins. A major environmental concern about offshore
petroleum exploration is the possibility of oil spills caused by inadvertent leaks or blowouts during the drilling process.

hydrates vaporize (Figure 13.2lB).

Gas Hydrates Gas hydrates are unusually compact chemical


structures made ofwater and natural gas. The most common type
of natural gas is methane, which produces methane hydrate. Gas
hydrates occur beneath permafrost areas on land and under the
ocean oor at depths below 525 meters (1,720 feet).
Most oceanic gas hydrates are created when bacteria break
down organic matter trapped in seaoor sediments, producing

Offshore drilling rigs are used to tap the oil and


natural gas reserves of the continental shelf. This platform is in the

methane gas with minor amounts of ethane and propane. These


gases combine with water in deep-ocean sediments (where pressures are high and temperatures are low) in such a way that the gas
is trapped inside a latticelike cage of water molecules.
Vessels that have drilled into gas hydrates have retrieved cores
ofmud mixed with chunks or layers of gas hydrates
til.
that fizzle and evaporate quickly when they are exposed to the
relatively warm, low-pressure conditions at the ocean surface.
Gas hydrates resemble chunks of ice but ignite when lit by a ame
because methane and other ammable gases are released as gas
Some estimates indicate that as much as 20 quadrillion cubic
meters (700 quadrillion cubic feet) of methane are locked up in
sediments containing gas hydrates. This is equivalent to about

twice as much carbon as Earths coal, oil, and conventional gas


reserves combined, so gas hydrates would seem to have great

potential. However, research indicates that the potential is far


more modest than these quantities would suggest. An article that
focused on this potential resource states that . . . all but a few percent ofthe great vastness of gas hydrates will likely remain beyond
reach indefinitely. Most deposits are simply spread too thinly for
economical recovery.31 The article goes on to say that commercial production of gas from hydrates may begin within the next
l0 to l5 years but will probably not make a significant contribution for at least 30 years.
3 1Kerr, Richard A., Gas Hydrate Resource: Smaller But Sooner," Science 303 (13 February
2004):E-146-947.

398

CHAPTER 13 The Ocean Floor

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'.i3;.Ii'll. Gas hydrates. A. A sample retrieved from the ocean oor shows layers of white icelike gas hydrate mixed with mud.
B. Gas hydrates evaporate when exposed to surface conditions and release natural gas, which can be ignited. (Photos courtesy of
GEOMAR Research Center, Kiel, Germany)

Other Resources
Other major resources from the seaoor include sand and gravel,
evaporative salts, and manganese nodules.
Sand and Gravel The offshore sand-and-gravel industry is second in economic value only to the petroleum industry. Sand and
gravel, which includes rock fragments that are washed out to sea
and shells of marine organisms, are mined by offshore barges
using suction dredges. Sand and gravel are primarily used as an
aggregate in concrete, as a fill material in grading projects, and
on recreational beaches.
In some cases, materials ofhigh economic value are associated
with offshore sand and gravel deposits. Gem-quality diamonds, for
example, are recovered from gravels on the continental shelf offshore of South Africa and Australia. Sediments rich in tin have been
mined from some offshore areas of Southeast Asia. Platinum and
gold have been found in deposits in gold-mining areas throughout the world, and some Florida beach sands are rich in titanium.
Evaporative Salts When seawater evaporates, the salts increase
in concentration until they can no longer remain dissolved, so they
precipitate out of solution and form salt deposits, which can then be
harvested. The most economically important salt is halite (common
table salt). Halite is widely used for seasoning, curing, and preserving
foods. It is also used in water conditioners, in agriculture, in the clothing industry for dying fabric, and to de-ice roads. Ever since ancient
times, the ocean has been an important source ofsalt for human consumption, and the sea remains a significant supplier (i5i~;.;iii=e

Nodules are widely distributed, but not all regions have the
same potential for mining. Good locations have abundant nodules
that contain the economically optimum mix of copper, nickel,
and cobalt. Sites meeting these criteria, however, are relatively
limited. Additionally, there are political problems of establishing
mining rights far from land and environmental concerns about
disturbing large portions of the deep-ocean oor.

CONCEPT cmrcx 1 3.6


Q Which seaoor resource is presently most valuable?
Q that are gas hydrates? Will they likely be a signicant energy
source in the next 10 years?
Q Which non energy seaoor resource is most valuable?
;iiiti%'i3it?; 'tf3.;/22 Each year about 30 percent of the world's supply of
salt is extracted from seawater. In this process, salt water is held in
shallow ponds, while solar energy evaporates the water. The nearly
pure salt deposits that eventually form are essentially artificial
evaporate deposits. At the southern end of San Francisco Bay, it takes
nearly 38,000 liters (10,000 gallons) of water to produce 900 kilograms
(1 12011) Of salt. (Photo by William E. Townsend Jr./Photo Researchers, Inc.)
l
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Manganese Nodules Manganese nodules contain significant


concentrations ofmanganese, iron, and smaller concentrations of
copper, nickel, and cobalt, all ofwhich have a variety of economic
uses. Cobalt, for example, is deemed strategic (essential to U.S.
national security) because it is required to produce dense, strong
alloys with other metals and is used in high-speed cutting tools,
powerful permanent magnets, and jet engine parts. Technologically, mining the deep-ocean oor for manganese nodules is possible but economically not profitable.

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In Review

399

GIVE IT SOME
1. Refer to Figure 13.2 to answer the following questions:
a. Water dominates Earths surface, but not everywhere. In what Northern Hemisphere latitude
belt is there more land than water?
b. In what latitude belt is there no land at all?
2. Assuming the average speed of sound waves in water is 1,500 meters per second, determine the
water depth if a signal sent out by an echo sounder on a research vessel
requires 6 seconds to strike bottom and return to the recorder aboard the ship.
3. Refer to the accompanying map showing the Eastern Seaboard of the United
States to complete the following:
a. Vllhich letter is associated with each of the following? Continental shelf;
I
North
'7'
continental slope; and shelf-break.
America
i,,;}:-
b. How does the size of the continental shelf surrounding Florida compare to
/;:;- ;~-/
_
_.
the size of the Florida peninsula?
c. Why are there no deep-ocean trenches on this map?
4. Are the continental margins surrounding the Atlantic Ocean primarily active
,
or passive? How about the margins surrounding the Pacific Ocean? Based on
Y it .

.
your response to the foregoing questions, indicate whether each ocean basin is

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getting larger, shrinking, or staying the same size. Explain your answer.
5. Examine the accompanying sketch showing three sediment layers on the
ocean oor. What term is applied to such layers? What process was responsible
for creating these layers? Are these layers more likely part of a deep-sea fan or
an accretionary wedge?
6. Imagine that while you and a passenger are in a deep-diving submersible in
the North Pacific near Alaskas Aleutian Islands you encounter a long, narrow
depression on the ocean oor. Your passenger asks whether you think it is a
submarine canyon, a rift valley, or a deep-ocean trench. How would you
respond? Explain your choice.
7. Reef-building corals are responsible for creating atollsring-shaped structures
that extend from the surface of the ocean to depths of thousands of meters.
These corals, however, can only live in warm, sunlit water no more than about
45 meters deep. This presents a paradox: How can corals, which require warm,
sunlit water, create structures that extend to great depths? Explain the apparent
contradiction.

.-.>

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In Review Chapter 13 The Ocean Floor


Oceanography is an interdisciplinary science that draws on the
methods and knowledge of geology, chemistry, physics, and
biology to study all aspects of the world's ocean.
Earth is a planet dominated by oceans. Nearly 71 percent of
Earths surface area consists of oceans and marginal seas. In
the Southern Hemisphere, often called the water hemisphere,
about 81 percent of the surface is water. The world ocean can
be divided into four main ocean basins: the Pacific Ocean
(largest and deepest ocean), the Atlantic Ocean (about half
the size of the Pacific), the Indian Ocean (slightly smaller than
the Atlantic and mostly in the Southern Hemisphere), and the
Arctic Ocean (smallest and shallowest ocean). Oceanographers also recognize one additional ocean, the Southern or
Antarctic Ocean, which occurs south of about 50 degrees south
latitude. The average depth of the oceans is 3,729 meters
(12,234 feet).

Ocean bathymetry is determined using echo sounders and


multibeam sonars, which bounce sonic signals off the ocean
oor. Ship-based receivers record the reected echoes and
accurately measure the time interval of the signals. With this
information, ocean depths are calculated and plotted to produce maps of ocean-oor topography. Recently, satellite measurements of the shape of the ocean surface have added data
for mapping ocean-oor features.
The zones that collectively make up a passive continental
margin include the continental shelf (a gently sloping, submerged surface extending from the shoreline toward the
deep-ocean basin); the continental slope (the true edge of the
continent, which has a steep slope that leads from the continental shelf into deep water); and in regions where trenches
do not exist, the steep continental slope merges into a more
gradual incline known as the continental rise (which consists

400

CHAPTER 13 The Ocean Floor

of sediments that have moved downslope from the continental shelf to the deep-ocean oor).
Submarine canyons are deep, steep-sided valleys that originate on the continental slope and may extend to the deepocean basin. Many submarine canyons have been excavated
by turbidity currents, which are downslope movements of
dense, sediment-laden water.
Active continental margins are located primarily around the
Pacific Rim in areas where the leading edge of a continent is
overrunning oceanic lithosphere. Here sediment scraped
from the descending oceanic plate is plastered against the
continent to form a collection of sediments called an

accretionary wedge. An active continental margin generally


has a narrow continental shelf, which grades into a steep
continental slope and deep-ocean trench.

The deep-ocean basin lies between the continental margin


and the oceanic ridge system. The features of the deep-ocean

basin include deep-ocean trenches (the deepest parts of the


ocean, where moving crustal plates descend into the mantle),
abyssal plains (among the most level places on Earth, consist-

ing of thick accumulations of sediments that were deposited


atop the low, rough portions of the ocean floor), seamounts
and guyots (isolated volcanic peaks on the ocean floor that
originate near the mid-ocean ridge or in association with volcanic hot spots), and oceanic plateaus (vast accumulations of
basaltic lava ows).
Atolls form as corals and other organisms build a reef on the
flanks of sinking volcanic islands. They gradually build the
reef complex upward as the island slowly sinks.

abyssal plain (p. 389)


active continental margin (p. 389)
bathyrnetry (p. 384)
biogenous sediment (p. 395)
continental margin (p. 386)
continental rise (p. 387)
continental shelf (p. 387)
continental slope (p. 387)
continental volcanic arc (p. 389)
deep-ocean basin (p. 389)

The oceanic (mid-ocean) ridge winds through the middle of


most ocean basins. Seaoor spreading occurs along this
broad feature, which is characterized by an elevated position,
extensive faulting, and volcanic structures that have developed on newly formed oceanic crust. Much of the geologic

activity associated with ridges occurs along a narrow region


on the ridge crest, called the rift valley, where magma moves
upward to create new slivers of oceanic crust.

There are three broad categories ofseaoor sediments. Terrigenous sediment consists primarily of mineral grains that were
weathered from continental rocks and transported to the

ocean; biogenous sediment consists of shells and skeletons of


marine animals and plants; and hydrogenous sediment
includes minerals that crystallize directly from seawater

through various chemical reactions.


Seaoor sediments are helpful when studying worldwide
climate changes because they often contain the remains of
organisms that once lived near the sea surface. The numbers
and types of these organisms change as the climate changes,
and their remains in seaoor sediments record these
changes.

Energy resources from the seaoor include oil and natural gas
and large untapped deposits of gas hydrates. Other seaoor
resources include sand and gravel, evaporative salts, and
metals within manganese nodules.

deep-ocean trench (p. 389)


deep-sea fan (p. 388)
echo sounder (p. 384)
gas hydrate (p. 397)
guyot (p. 390)
hydrogenous sediment (p. 395)
mid-ocean ridge (p. 392)
oceanic plateau (p. 390)
oceanic ridge (p. 392)
oceanography (p. 382)

passive continental margin (p. 387)


rift valley (p. 393)
Seamount (p. 390)
seismic reection profile (p. 385)
sonar (p. 384)
submarine canyon (p. 388)
terrigenous sediment (p. 395)
turbidity current (p. 388)
volcanic island arc (p. 389)

Mastering Geology

401

Examining the Earth System


1. Describe some of the material and energy exchanges that
take place at the interface between the (a) ocean surface and
atmosphere, (b) ocean water and ocean oor, and (c) ocean
bmsphere
and Oceanwaten
.
2. Sediment on the seaoor often leaves clues about various
. .
.
.
. .
condltions that ex1sted durin de os1t1on. What do the
.
.
g
.
followmg layers 1n a seaoor core 1nd1cate about the
environment in which each layer was deposited?

0 Layer #3: Calcareous ooze


_ Layer #2: Fragments of Coral reef
o L ayer #1 ( b o tt om) :R oc<so
l fb asalt'1c compos11onw1
't'
'th
some metal sulfide coatings
_
_
_
Explain how one area of the seaoor could experience such varied
conditions of deposition.

o Layer #5 (top): A layer of fine clays


o Layer #4: Siliceous ooze

Mastering Geology
_
f

LI- L.

"
c
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