We know even more about the Moon compared to the ocean. For years, this idea has actually been repeated by scientists as well as science communicators, including Sir David Attenborough, in the documentary the Blue Planet, from 2001. Recently, the Moon is replaced with Mars in Blue Planet II (2017) as well as other sources.
As deep-sea researchers, we examined this alleged “fact” and found it has no scientific basis. It isn’t accurate in any quantifiable way.
Exactly where did this curious idea come from?
Mapping the deep
The earliest written record is in a report published in the Journal of Navigation in 1954 in which the oceanographer and chemist George Deacon cites a claim by the geophysicist Edward Bullard.
A paper written in 1957 as well as published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Arts states: “The deep oceans cover over two-thirds of the surface of the planet, but a lot more is known about the shape of the moon than about the bottom of the ocean,” it stated. This specifically refers to the scant amount of information on the topography of the ocean floor, and predates the first crewed descent to the deepest portion of the ocean, Mariana Trench (1960), and the very first Moon landing (1969).
This particular quotation additionally predates the process of using ship-mounted echo-sounders to map the ocean floor from acoustic data, known as swathe bathymetry.
Nearly a quarter of the earth’s ocean floor (23.4 percent, to be precise) has been mapped to a high resolution. This’s more or less forty six million square miles (120 million square kilometers ), or about 3 times the area of the Moon. That is why the comparison to Mars has shifted to the red planet, having a surface area of 56 million square miles (145 million square kilometers).
high-resolution maps, on the other hand, don’t constitute the whole of expertise. The deep ocean could be split into three dimensions, and it’s a dynamic and diverse ecosystem, as opposed to the Moon.
A surprising number of visitors
Yet another incorrect comparison is usually that more people have walked on the Moon than explored the deepest part of the Earth.
This assertion is difficult to substantiate. The “deepest place on Earth” could refer to Mariana Trench or simply the deepest part of it (the Challenger Deep, named after the British survey ship HMS Challenger).
Nevertheless, as of early 2023, a minimum of 27 and as many as 40 or more individuals had been to the Challenger Deep. But on the other hand, just 12 people have set foot on the Moon and 24 people have visited it.
Out of sight, out of mind
So why do people continue to say we understand more concerning the Moon or Mars than the deep sea?
It seems natural to compare the deep sea with space. Both tend to be dark, terrifying, and far away.
But we can see the Moon quite easily by simply looking up. We accept an apparantly glowing rock more easily in the sky than parts of the ocean are very deep, by being able to see it. We can take notice of the waxing and waning of the Moon and we can sense the pull as well as pull of the tides.
As we’re forced to accept its presence, we find out more about the Moon compared to the deep ocean. It affects our life in a tangible way that the deep sea doesn’t.
Unless we happen to be seeing a horror flick or watching a documentary in regards to a terrifying alien monster dredged up by a deep sea trawler, we rarely think about the deep sea.
A useful analogy
The deep sea is physically inaccessible, so looking at it to space might offer a helpful analogy for an otherwise difficult -to-imagine ecosystem. A number of deep sea researchers claim that the chronic estrangement of the deep sea has minimized the great quantity of research which has emerged in recent years.
Deep sea biology is constantly referred to as a discipline which understands less about its own area of study compared to a relatively small, bare rock, without environment, water, and life. But yet this self deprecating line is repeated by the researchers themselves who might discover that showcasing the lack of information about the deep ocean helps to advertise the demand for marine research.
Ultimately, the notion that we know more more or less the Moon compared to the deep ocean is around 70 years old. The deep sea knows much more than we know, but there’s still a lot to find out.
Prema Arasu, Postdoctoral research fellow, The University of Western Australia; Alan Jamieson, Senior Lecturer in Marine Ecology, Newcastle University, and Thomas Linley, Research Associate, Marine Ecology, Newcastle University