Magazine article Technology and Children

Our Blue Planet: Ocean Exploration

Magazine article Technology and Children

Our Blue Planet: Ocean Exploration

Article excerpt

The ocean has held its many mysteries since the beginning of time. And, humans have been intrigued and often speculated about the vast bodies of water at the coast. The seemingly endless oceans are both the source of myth and significant questions about life on earth. In many ways, the oceans have allowed us to sharpen our powers of observation and develop a keen sense of place.

Early Explorers:

There is a rich history of ocean exploration. The earliest people to venture into the sea explored the ocean margins and were rarely out of sight of land. The conquest of the oceans began on the surface and has stayed there for millennia. The Greeks and Chinese were among the first societies to plunder the bounty of the sea. They were actively diving into the ocean's shallow waters to gather food and collect shells for commerce. The Polynesians and Phoenicians were the first people to develop sea routes. The Polynesians used advanced navigation systems, relying on celestial observation, to colonize the islands of the South Pacific Ocean. They created "stick" maps of currents and islands to assist navigation. Historians believe that the Phoenicians sailed around the Mediterranean Sea and eventually reached the shores of present-day England by 600 BC. These early explorations also resulted in crude maps of the Mediterranean. Like the Polynesian sailors, the Phoenicians also developed celestial references to assist their voyages.

As the early oceanic explorers became more sophisticated and their boats became more seaworthy, they ventured farther from their homeports. Accounts exist from these expeditions that provide details of trips from the eastern Mediterranean Sea to England, Iceland, and even Norway. They left us clues, by way of the maps they archived--maps from 150 BC that give details of currents and physical land features. Almost 200 years later, Ptolemy, a Greek astronomer and geographer, attempted to map the known world, especially the world's known oceans. He was surprisingly accurate in depicting the ocean and coasts of Western Europe and Africa. It is likely that he compiled this information from Mediterranean merchants, who had for years kept accurate records of depth and currents as they sought out quicker trade routes.

The Vikings were notable early explorers who ventured out into the uncharted oceans. These great seafarers from the north may have visited many lands long before any European sailors. While they were considered fierce warriors, their main occupation was trading. They were the first Europeans to visit Iceland and Greenland, opened up trade routes in the Mediterranean, and even visited North America when they landed in Newfoundland. They depended on celestial navigation and used their knowledge of the evening skies to determine their latitude when no land was around their boats.

The Age of Exploration:

The Age of Exploration is often attributed to Prince Henry of Portugal, also known as Henry the Navigator. His devotion to exploring other lands and expanding oceanic discovery was unsurpassed during the 1400s. The Portuguese extensively mapped the coast of Western Africa so that they could create alternate trade routes around the Sahara Desert, the route most often used for trading. Their progress was remarkable. Portuguese sailors took less than 50 years since the beginning of their initial probes into the open ocean, to round the Cape of Good Hope and sail to the Indian Ocean. This was, in fact, the equivalent of landing on the moon and returning safely. In 1492, Columbus traveled east to the New World assisted by the success of his predecessors and the charts they drew, although they were incomplete. The accumulation of data about coastal topography, winds, waves, and currents provided sailors with the information that allowed Ferdinand Magellan to circumnavigate the Earth by way of the oceans in 1520.

Interest in the Depths:

In the mid 1500s, a passionate interest in what was below the waves swept through Europe. …

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