Ocean, Zones with depth

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An ocean (, the World Ocean of classical antiquity) is a body of saline water that composes much of a planet's hydrosphere. On Earth, an ocean is one of the major conventional divisions of the World Ocean, which occupies two-thirds of planet's surface. These are, in descending order by area, the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Southern (Antarctic), and Arctic Oceans. The word sea is often used interchangeably with "ocean" in American English but, strictly speaking, a sea is a body of saline water (generally a division of the world ocean) partly or fully enclosed by land.


Oceanographers divide the ocean into different zones by physical and biological conditions. The pelagic zone includes all open ocean regions, and can be divided into further regions categorized by depth and light abundance. The photic zone includes the oceans from the surface to a depth of 200 m; it is the region where photosynthesis can occur and is, therefore, the most biodiverse. Since plants require photosynthesis, life found deeper than the photic zone must either rely on material sinking from above (see marine snow) or find another energy source. Hydrothermal vents are the primary source of energy in what is known as the aphotic zone (depths exceeding 200 m). The pelagic part of the photic zone is known as the epipelagic.

The pelagic part of the aphotic zone can be further divided into vertical regions according to temperature.

The mesopelagic is the uppermost region. Its lowermost boundary is at a thermocline of , which, in the tropics generally lies at . Next is the bathypelagic lying between , typically between and Lying along the top of the abyssal plain is the abyssopelagic, whose lower boundary lies at about . The last zone includes the deep oceanic trench, and is known as the hadalpelagic. This lies between and is the deepest oceanic zone.

The benthic zones are aphotic and correspond to the three deepest zones of the deep-sea. The bathyal zone covers the continental slope down to about . The abyssal zone covers the abyssal plains between 4,000 and 6,000 m. Lastly, the hadal zone corresponds to the hadalpelagic zone, which is found in oceanic trenches.

The pelagic zone can be further subdivided into two subregions: the neritic zone and the oceanic zone. The neritic zone encompasses the water mass directly above the continental shelves whereas the oceanic zone includes all the completely open water.

In contrast, the littoral zone covers the region between low and high tide and represents the transitional area between marine and terrestrial conditions. It is also known as the intertidal zone because it is the area where tide level affects the conditions of the region.

The ocean can be divided into three density zones: the surface zone, the pycnocline, and the deep zone. The surface zone, also called the mixed layer, refers to the uppermost density zone of the ocean. Temperature and salinity are relatively constant with depth in this zone due to currents and wave action. The surface zone contains ocean water that is in contact with the atmosphere and within the photic zone. The surface zone has the ocean's least dense water and represents approximately 2% of the total volume of ocean water. The surface zone usually ranges between depths of 500 feet to 3,300 feet below ocean surface, but this can vary a great deal. In some cases, the surface zone can be entirely non-existent. The surface zone is typically thicker in the tropics than in regions of higher latitude. The transition to colder, denser water is more abrupt in the tropics than in regions of higher latitudes. The pycnocline refers to a zone wherein density substantially increases with depth due primarily to decreases in temperature. The pycnocline effectively separates the lower-density surface zone above from the higher-de


nsity deep zone below. The pycnocline represents approximately 18% of the total volume of ocean water. The deep zone refers to the lowermost density zone of the ocean. The deep zone usually begins at depths below 3,300 feet in mid-latitudes. The deep zone undergoes negligible changes in water density with depth. The deep zone represents approximately 80% of the total volume of ocean water. The deep zone contains relatively colder and stable water.

If a zone undergoes dramatic changes in temperature with depth, it contains a thermocline. The tropical thermocline is typically deeper than the thermocline at higher latitudes. Polar waters, which receive relatively little solar energy, are not stratified by temperature and generally lack a thermocline since surface water at polar latitudes are nearly as cold as water at greater depths. Below the thermocline, water is very cold, ranging from −1 °C to 3 °C. Since this deep and cold layer contains the bulk of ocean water, the average temperature of the world ocean is 3.9 °C

If a zone undergoes dramatic changes in salinity with depth, it contains a halocline. If a zone undergoes a strong, vertical chemistry gradient with depth, it contains a chemocline.

The halocline often coincides with the thermocline, and the combination produces a pronounced pycnocline.

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