The intrigue of the oceans….
I’ve been thinking lately about my surroundings and where I choose to be because life seems so hectic no matter how much you discard of the periphery. I would meander that I am drawn to the sea because the wealth of sensations abound. Ricocheting through my mind and body as I contentedly pass away time doing very little in or by it. This isn’t a passive gratification. Gently lapping or powerful galloping waves of the tidal mood toy with my disposition; the abrasive sand beneath my feet centres me; the unusual fauna of stones and shells decorating the entry of water onto land spawns an urge to rummage; the rhythmic reverberation of the surround sound supports my contemplation and as the sea air turns spiky and mellow in turn it prompts nostalgia towards the constants in my life.
However deep down I’m cognisant that I am also torn. I relish that the oceans are a law unto itself and in many aspects a mystery. However that imperviousness allied with a vastness seemingly ready to swallow us up in an instant is daunting. When you consider the earth when formed was fully covered by water, we are but a dilly-dally in its journey to reclaim what belongs. Truth is, the ocean whilst fascinating simultaneously frightens me. And perhaps it is this contraction that forges its allure.
“How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean,” Arthur C. Clarke
My fear is embodied in something like The Mariana trench located in the Western Pacific ocean (close to the Philippines). It is thought to hold the deepest point in the Earth’s surface. The trench measures c69km wide on average and at Challenger point has a depth of close to 11km. To give context, Mount Everest placed at the bottom of this spot would still have 2km of water above. Such an abyss receives no sunlight, holds temperatures just above freezing and pressure more than 1000 times that of sea level. This alone I find freaky; but more unexpected is the knowledge that some sort of life exists here. Although, we are exploring what it takes to be able to survive and thrive in such an environment my wild imagination has The Meg happily pottering….
Rachel Carson in her beautiful book ‘The sea around us’ mentions that without the effect of gravity, sea levels would rise about 93 feet all over the world. And should we touch on ‘tidal waves’? Caused either by underwater earthquakes or winds with the force of a hurricane, these tsunamis in their stealth have devastated many costal communities as the water exemplifies its might — impermeable to our request to let be.
Would it surprise you to know I am generally what would be regarded as a wimp. Of course not. My other half is the opposite. Throwing himself into hair-brained adrenaline activities whenever the impulse takes him (clearly I put it down to a maturity imbalance). He is a water baby and I suspect would like a modern day merman happily spend much of his life under water. This is very unlike me who doesn’t appreciate handing over my self control to nature apart from one odd predilection. I like to swim and paddle in the sea regardless of season. I’m not sure if this is enjoyable or a challenge; thrilling or painful. But it is an urge whenever I am by the sea.
Many have a desire to understand and master the ocean. Whether it is through ocean faring, surfing, free diving, fishing. A hunger compels to bring order and predictability to this vastness which can usher change in us — physically and mentally. The body of cold water swimmer Lewis Pugh has adapted because he swims so regularly in The Atlantic. His core body temperature is higher than a normal person when he is in the water meaning he is able to survive the freezing Artic unlike us mere mortals. Free divers without any breathing apparatus have been able to swim to depths of more than 200m and remain under water for over 11minutes. We are not entirely sure how this is physically and psychologically possible given the stresses imposed on our body by pressure — but it is.
As I was mulling my limited knowledge about oceans it struck me I use the words sea and ocean interchangeably. I learn we shouldn’t. According to the National Ocean Service in the USA, normally ‘seas are smaller than oceans and are usually located where the land and ocean meet. Typically, seas are partially enclosed by land’. In some cases they are completely landlocked but all seas are composed of salt water. On that basis there are c50 seas around the world. Oceans have particular characteristics and there were until 2021 four known oceans when one was added by the USA. The four familiar oceans are the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian and Artic. Added is the Southern ocean which encircles Antarctica. It didn’t just appear in case you thought how did that happen. Previously there had been debate over whether this stretch of water had enough unique attributes to be a separate ocean. The change in the flow of the currents within has been declared ample to define it as such.
Another curiosity is how much we know about the oceans given they cover c70% of the earth. In 2014, Scientific American stated we had mapped the entire ocean floor to a resolution of 5km (that is we can discern any feature bigger than 5km but not smaller) using satellite radar and very clever mathematical techniques. In present day we have progressed to a 1.5km resolution but it still not detailed enough to perceive shipwrecks or volcanic craters. About 5% of the ocean floor has been mapped using modern sonar systems which provide resolution to 100m so you decide if that indicates we know a lot or very little.
I have been perusing The Happy Words Project on Instagram and I found words beautifully encompassing my experiences and feelings for the seas and oceans in a much more sublime way than my clumsiness so far has done. I thought I would leave you with these wonderful words and hope they conjure in you an abundance of sensations even if your intriguing place is somewhere other than the sea.
Ameddo (not sure which language) — a melancholic trance involving total absorption in vivid sensory details
San Xin (Chinese) — to loosen the heart; to drive away one’s cares; to be carefree
Advaita (Sanskrit) — the universal soul and the individual soul as one
Njuta (Swedish) — to deeply enjoy; to profoundly appreciate
Curglaff (Scottish) — the bracing, invigorating feeling of entering cold water
Shuang (Chinese) — to feel well, bright, crisp, pleasurable, invigorating
Kaif (Russian) — heightened pleasure and satisfaction but often with a sense of calmness