The interplay of these ocean waters with freshwater runoff from land creates the conditions that support large biological production on Canada's continental shelves and embayments (see COASTAL LANDFORM; DRAINAGE BASIN). The COASTAL WATERS also affect shipping, offshore resource industries and maritime climate. OCEANOGRAPHY is the science that studies the physical, chemical, geological and biological properties of the oceans and analyzes the impacts resulting from the exploitation of their resources.
The average oceanic depth is nearly 4000 m; that of the marginal seas 1200 m. The continents generally extend under the ocean, forming continental shelves tens to hundreds of kilometres wide and up to 500 m deep. At their outer edge, the water depth increases rapidly to the ocean basin depths of 3000-6000 m. This region is called the continental slope.
The oceans are divided into several deep basins by mid-ocean ridges, where new oceanic crust is formed (see PLATE TECTONICS). Rising to depths of 2000 m or shallower and sometimes forming ISLANDS (eg, Iceland, the Azores), these ridges constrain the distribution of the deep waters and affect the upper-ocean circulation. Sea-floor spreading also creates transverse ridges perpendicular to the mid-ocean ridges (eg, the shallow ridges joining Greenland to Iceland and Scotland). These also separate ocean basins.
Island arcs and deep-sea trenches are formed where oceanic crust is moving under another tectonic plate. The deepest oceanic depths are found in such trenches, the greatest being over 11 000 m in the Mariana Trench, western North Pacific. Island arcs (eg, Antilles, Aleutians) frequently form the boundaries between marginal seas and the adjacent ocean. The deep basins also contain isolated sea-mounts rising several thousand metres from the sea-floor and often forming elongated chains. Some of these volcanic structures rise above the surface and form islands (eg, Hawaiian Islands).
In the upper few tens of metres of the ocean, the euphotic zone, one-celled planktonic organisms use sunlight to convert various nutrients (eg, inorganic carbon, nitrates, phosphates) into organic molecules through photosynthesis. By this means they multiply to form a food source for larger organisms, thus forming the basis for marine food chains and webs.
The upper ocean usually consists of a "mixed layer" some tens of metres thick, which is homogenized through wind and wave action. At the bottom of the mixed layer the density of the water increases markedly; this region is called the seasonal pycnocline. It changes in depth and temperature from season to season.
During spring and summer in temperate latitudes, shallow mixed layers are formed because solar radiation absorbed in the surface layers makes them warmer and less dense. Biological productivity within the mixed layer depletes the nutrients and the seasonal pycnocline inhibits the transfer of nutrients from below; hence, after an initial spring bloom, biological productivity is limited by the rate at which nutrients can be regenerated from the recycling of the organic products of dead organisms.
In fall and winter, stronger winds and waves as well as convection caused by cooling at the surface cause the mixed layer to become denser and deeper, incorporating deeper nutrient-rich waters into the surface waters in preparation for the following spring. In subpolar regions, mixed layers deeper than 2000 m can form in late winter.
Any mechanism that causes mixing of ocean waters to increase nutrients in the euphotic zone contributes to an increase in biological productivity. Frontal mixing between lower salinity inshore waters and warmer offshore waters results in the injection of heat, salt and nutrients into the coastal waters. On Canada's East Coast the boundary or front between inshore and offshore waters generally lies beyond the edge of the Continental Shelf, making this an especially rich area for fishing (see GRAND BANKS).
Other factors that can promote horizontal and vertical mixing include wind action and eddies spinning off major currents. Mixing between surface and bottom waters occurs more readily if the water is relatively shallow (up to 200 m). Hence, the continental shelves are more productive than open-ocean areas.
Below the seasonal pycnocline is found the main thermocline, where, from depths of 200 to 4000 m, the water temperature falls from as high as 18°C to 2.5°C. The main thermocline arises because water from the progressively colder, denser, winter-mixed layers of higher latitudes flows equatorward below the warmer, less dense layers. The deepest waters of the main thermocline are formed by winter convection in a few high-latitude locations, then spread to fill the deep basins of the world oceans. These deep waters are remarkably uniform in temperature and salinity. For example, fully 10% of the total volume of the ocean has temperatures of 0.6ºC to 1.6°C and salinities of 34.67 to 34.72.
Half of the ocean's volume occurs in 2 concentrations. The first, with temperatures of -0.8ºC to 2.6°C and salinities of 34.57 to 34.76, is formed off Antarctica (especially in the Weddell Sea). It sinks, flows eastward around Antarctica and northward to fill the deep basins of the Indian, Pacific and South Atlantic oceans. The second concentration, with temperatures of 1.7ºC to 3.0°C and salinities of 34.87 to 34.96, is formed in the Norwegian and Greenland seas. It enters the Atlantic between Greenland and Iceland and Iceland and Scotland, filling the entire North Atlantic Basin below 2000 m and flow southward in the South Atlantic above the Antarctic water moving northward. Since the 1980s these deep waters of the North Atlantic have been getting steadily fresher. Since there is little deep ocean data before the 1950s, it is not known if this is a natural cyclical variation or due to GLOBAL WARMING.
Global Climate System
Author R. ALLYN CLARKE
Links to Other Sites
A well-illustrated online guide to natural geological processes related to plate tectonics, earthquakes, and related events. From Natural Resources Canada.
Department of Fisheries and Oceans: Maritimes Region
Access a wealth of information about Fisheries and Oceans Canada in the Maritimes.
How do the cycles and modes of the Pacific Ocean affect the water cycle?
This report examines potential impacts of Pacific ocean cycles (climate change) on some components of the water cycle and the climate of Canada's West Coast.
Probe the mysterious behaviour of ocean currents at this excellent multimedia website from Earth and Ocean Sciences at UBC.
Bedford Institute of Oceanography
The website for the Bedford Institute of Oceanography. Features many research reports, maps, diagrams and multimedia resources about oceanography. Also profiles the Canadian Coast Guard survey vessels stationed at the Institute. Check the informative “Program Overview” before searching this very extensive site.
Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
Features article abstracts, conference schedules, science fair information, and numerous awards for outstanding accomplishments in oceanography, meteorology and related disciplines in Canada.
Tsunamis and Tsunami Research
Check out the "basic physics of tsunamis" section for details about the causes and effects of tsunami events and their connection to earthquakes. From Fisheries and Oceans Canada - Pacific Region.
An oceanographic research group based in Québec. The website offers an overview of their extensive network of scientists, programs and research facilities.
A bilingual glossary of words frequently used in the study of aquaculture. The terms are grouped alphabetically and are researchable by clicking the corresponding letter of the desired term. From the website for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
The website for NEPTUNE Canada, a massive undersea research project focusing on seabed structure and activity, the deep sea ecosystem, and ocean climate change. Check out the online multimedia depicting their undersea observatory in action and much more. From the University of Victoria.
Argo is an upper-ocean ocean research network that specializes in climate variability studies. Read their “What is Argo?” brochure for a great overview of their scientific projects. Also features scientific articles and superb photos and maps.
Glossary: Marine Ecology
A glossary of terms related to marine ecology. From the website for the Galveston Bay National Estuary Program in the US.
International Council for the Exploration of the Sea
ICES, an oceanographic research network supported by 19 member nations, investigates marine ecosystems of the North Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas. Features very informative news articles about related scientific developments.
'Rapid' 2010 melt for Arctic ice - but no record
A 2010 BBC article about scientific studies focusing on variations in rate of melting of Arctic ice.
Erosion chewing up Canada's coastlines
A 2008 news story describing the effects of erosion on Canada's coastlines. From the canada.com website.
Rising sea levels threaten Metro Vancouver
A 2008 news story about the impact of rising sea levels on coastal communities in Canada. From the canada.com website.
An online guide to the subtidal ecosystem of the benthic zone. From the website "Natural History of Nova Scotia - topics & habitats."
Glossary: Arctic Climatology and Meteorology
A glossary of meteorological terms prepared for the Arctic Climatology Project Arctic Meteorology and Climate Atlas.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...