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Planet Earth or Planet Water? Which of these two names, taken from two of the four elements of antiquity, would be the more appropriate for our planet? If we go by the area they cover, then it should be the second. Seven tenths of the planet's fissured surface, more than 139 million square mi (360 million square km), is covered by seas and oceans. The ocean: an alluring word that evokes the smell of brine, thoughts of immensity and adventure, the promise of discovery, and dreams of journeys to unknown places. The ocean: mare incognitum as it was called on the Renaissance maps that filled the waters west of Europe with question marks.

Even today, although most people live on the shoreline or near the coast, the ocean is still the great unknown. While the continents appear to hold no further secrets, the oceans still have plenty hidden away. The fact is that human beings need water to survive, but the aquatic environment is inhospitable to our species. Using our own natural resources, we can only just stay afloat by laboriously swimming, or dive for a few moments to insignificant depths. In spite of the limitations imposed by our pulmonary respiration and other adaptations to terrestrial life, the ocean has fascinated our species ever since the first humans caught sight of the seashore.

Do the oceans constitute a single biome? Almost certainly not. There are many important differences between the continental platforms of cold and warm seas, between the central region of the oceans and areas of upwelling, between the sunlit surface layers and the perpetual night of the ocean trenches. In spite of this, our approach in Encyclopedia of the Biosphere, based on describing the terrestrial biomes and especially their linkages with human beings, led us to think a unified treatment of the marine environment would be appropriate. The marine environment is unlike all others because no humans live there, although they exploit it. Depending on time and circumstances, the sea can be a trade route, the site of naval battles, a source of food, a voyage of hope, an escape route, a path to adventure, or the scene of sporting activities. But very few people, if any, live permanently on the sea.

The case of the shorelines is different. What do the white cliffs of Dover have in common with the coast of the Netherlands, so low it has to be protected with dykes? And what do the shores of the southern tips of South America and Africa, permanently bathed in cold waters, have in common with the sheltered coasts of the inland seas? And what do the Western Sahara and Atacama deserts have in common with the densely populated Chinese coastline, the Gulf of Bengal, or with the suburbs of New York and Tokyo? Humanity's unique relationship with the sea connects very different spaces, which also share the fact that they are frontiers between two environments as different as land and sea.

Scientific study of the oceans started late in comparison with most of the other biomes treated in Encyclopedia of the Biosphere. It began, logically enough, in coastal areas. Even in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Renaissance was planting the seeds of the scientific revolution that would lead to the modern age, the illustrations in the first major books on natural history--which included accurate representations of the coastal and pelagic fish species exploited for human consumption--gave a treatment to the hypothetical denizens of the distant ocean depths that was quite fanciful and bizarre. An impressive range of monsters--such as huge sea serpents capable of devouring whole vessels with their entire crew, giant cephalopods capable of snatching a man in each of their arms, lampreys that could stop ships, playful sea-unicorns, and enticing sirens--all formed part of the generally accepted fauna of the oceans. It was not until the beginning of the 18th century that Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli (Bologna; 1658-1730), laid the foundations for the scientific study of the oceans. He did not go so far as to call it oceanography, but used the term "the physical history of the sea," the title of the book he published in Amsterdam in 1725. This was the result of his observations of the western Mediterranean many years before, when by chance his military career took him to Cassis in Provence from 1706-1708. His "oceanography" dealt with an almost landlocked sea, the Mediterranean, criss-crossed since antiquity by merchants and warriors, pirates and emigrants, pilgrims and adventurers: The Mediterranean was also the first sea to be regularly traversed by rigorous observers, starting with Marsigli himself. Noone followed Marsigli on to the high seas until half a century later, when Joseph Banks (1743-1820) sailed under Captain Cook on the Endeavour (1768-1771). Captain Cook's voyage with the naturalist and patron Joseph Banks was the start of a period, the last third of the 18th century, when the naval powers of the time competed with each other to organize large expeditions that included some scientific aims, including what might be considered oceanographic ones. Despite being disrupted by the Napoleonic Wars, large expeditions continued unabated, although they were more and more conditioned by the political and commercial interests of the colonial powers. Large expeditions reached their culmination in the Challenger expedition, which covered nearly all the seas of the world, and obtained data and specimens that led to the publication of 52 volumes on the results of the expedition (1876-1891). The oceanographic stations and laboratories created at about the same time as the voyage of the Challenger significantly extended knowledge of the submarine world.

However, the great advances in oceanography and marine ecology have taken place in the 20th century, especially in the years after the Second World War. A significant landmark was the publication of the book The Oceans by the Norwegian Harald U. Sverdrup (18881957) and his collaborators. This book was probably the first exhaustive academic study of the planet's oceans, a thorough summary of the knowledge of the time. And it did so considering them as a single entity, a holistic approach that we have followed in this volume, updating it and making it more accessible to the general public.

Even so, the treatment we have decided on for this volume is different from usual, but is more in keeping with the general treatment that Encyclopedia of the Biosphere has given the different terrestrial biomes. We have separated the strictly oceanic environment, the high seas, from the shores, those complex frontiers between land and sea. The oceanic environment-where there is no permanent human population, and which is exploited in a way that is intensive and destructive as regards some species, though not as drastically as most terrestrial ecosystems-are treated in basically the same way as the other biomes. On the other hand, the shore environment, where much of the human population lives and which has always been altered and exploited by humans since earliest times, receives a special treatment. It should be borne in mind that the land element of the coastal ecosystems appears in the volumes corresponding to the different biomes, in greater or lesser detail. So the first part of this volume deals with two phenomena, tides and the water cycle, that are most important in strictly coastal areas. They have each been split into two sections, dedicated to life in shores with or without tides (that is to say with weak or imperceptible tides). The sections dealing with humans and biosphere reserves are, within their special nature, more like those dealing with the biomes in the other volumes.

In the first volume we expressed our special thanks to Ramon Margalef, who has taught us, stimulated us and been our mentor. This situation has repeated itself, to an even greater extent, in this, the last, volume of Encyclopedia of the Biosphere; without Margalef's participation it would have been different and rather incomplete. His participation has been decisive, starting with his comments on the suggested list of contents, continuing with proposals for most of the contributors, and finishing with his thorough reading of the finished texts. He is also the author of a large part of the text, and more than half of the rest was written by former students of his. We are pleased to acknowledge our great debt to him.

We must also thank the other members of the Encyclopedia of the Biosphere advisory council and each of the authors whose work has helped to make this volume possible. We would also like to acknowledge Arnald Marcer's efforts--and effectiveness--in coordinating and supervising the authors during the process of writing the texts. Without his balanced mix of respect for and demands made on the authors of the contributions to this volume, we would not have succeeded in preparing the contributions by the deadline. We would also like to thank the individuals and institutions who have provided documentation or who have read and commented different parts of this volume. These include Brigitte Steudler (Bibliotheque Cantonal et Universitaire, Lausanne); Enric Ballesteros (Centre d'Estudis Avancats, CSIC, Blanes); Emy Framan (Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionelle et Evolutive, CNRS); Global Change Data Center (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland); Jordi Lleonart, Anna Sabate and Enric Saiz (Institut de Ciencies del Mar, CSIC); National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (Washington); British Library (London); Xavier Ferrer (Departament de Vertebrats, Universitat de Barcelona); Adolf de Sostoa (Departament de Vertebrats, Universitat de Barcelona); and Rosa Maria Poch (Departament de Ciencies del Sol, Universitat de Lleida).

Ramon Folch

Josep M. Camarasa

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Author:Folch, Ramon; Camarasa, Josep M.
Publication:Encyclopedia of the Biosphere
Article Type:Work overview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2000
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