Early Ocean Explorers

Ocean exploration has been one of human being’s occupations since the invention of boats and ocean vessels. Even though, people have sailed the world’s oceans for thousands of years, most ocean exploration has been done at the surface level. It was not until the mid 19th century that a systematic exploration of the bottom of the ocean was performed for the first time. While curiosity, commerce and the search for riches and new lands may have driven early ocean explorers, modern ocean exploration is driven mainly for scientific purposes. For this purpose, modern ocean exploration makes use of advanced technologies to gather samples, data and study the different layers of the ocean.

Early civilizations

Early ocean explorers from civilizations, such as the Polynesians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Egyptians, among others, traveled the oceans mainly as means of transportation and commerce. Most ocean exploration at that time was made principally at the surface level and most discoveries at those early times included new found lands. The phoenicians developed sailing routes, including the Mediterranean, Red Sea and Indian ocean and around the African continent and western Europe. It was not until modern times that advanced technology allowed the extensive exploration of the deep ocean. Ancient civilizations used the stars as an aid for navigation.

Ocean explorers from early 15th century

By the fifteenth century, the need to discover new routes and colonize distant lands encouraged ocean explorers to embark in new ocean explorations. In 1492 Christopher Columbus discovered the American continent, while searching for a new route to the Indies. In 1498 Vasco de Gama establishes new routes to the Indies, navigating around Africa. In 1499, Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci explored nearly 10,000 km of coastline in the New World and the “Americas” was named in his honor. In 1519, Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese sailor became the first person to circumnavigate the earth globe.

By the end of the 18th century much was known about the cartography of the oceans; however, almost nothing was known about the natural processes ocurring within them. In 1831, Charles Darwin sails to the Galapagos Islands, where he develops the theories of natural selection and evolution, on a ship called the Beagle. In 1860, the U.S. Coast Survey makes the first chart of the Gulf Stream. In 1960, one of the first attempts to explore the deep ocean is made on board of the Bathyscape Trieste, reaching a depth of 10,915 meters in a deep ocean region known as the Mariana Trench.

Modern ocean exploration

Modern ocean exploration occurred between 1872-1876 with the Challenger expedition. The expedition, which was funded by the British governement, was a scientific endeavor whose primary objective was to map and study the oceans of the world. During the expedition, which is considered as the first scientific endeavor, scientists collected water samples, sediment samples of the deep ocean, sounding measurements and discovered 715 genera and more than 4,500 new plant and animal species. The discoveries made in the four-year research expedition were condensed in 50 volumes. The Challenger expedition arouse an increased interest in the oceans among other nations.

Advances in ocean exploration

Deep-sea exploration made significant advances in the 19th century. Technological inventions, including the sonar to detect objects uderwater and manned and unmanned submersible vehicles equipped with cameras, lights, computers and robotic arms, which are designed to collect samples in the deep ocean, are widely used today by oceanographers. While vast regions of the deep ocean still remain unexplored, more sophisticated equipment, including satellites, fiber optics and remote-control robots are making it posible for oceanographers to explore regions of the ocean that had not been explored before.

Early ocean exploration may have been driven by the need to transport goods and people from one land region to another; however, a need to find new routes to make shorter navigation voyages, encouraged early 15th century explorers to look for new ocean routes. The discovery of new lands motivated some adventurous explorers to embark in voyages around the ocean in search of riches and new discoveries. According to noaa, early ocean explorers lay the grounds for another type of ocean exploration, the scientific exploration, whose task is to uncover questions, pertaining to the biological, chemical and physical composition of the ocean.