MadSci Network: General Biology

Re: What is deep-sea biology?

Date: Thu Feb 25 14:19:08 1999
Posted By: Rob Campbell, PhD Candidate, Biological Oceanography, University of British Columbia
Area of science: General Biology
ID: 919835315.Gb

Hi Audrey-

The difference between "oceanography" and "marine biology" (which would include deep sea biology) is pretty fuzzy and arbitrary- the answer you get really depends on who you're talking to.

Oceanography is generally broken into 3 subdisciplines (I've stolen most of these definitions from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography page, I'd suggest you give it a browse):

  • Biological Oceanography is generally involved with populations of marine organisms and how they relate to their physical and chemical environment.
  • Chemical Oceanography deals with things like the physical and inorganic chemistry of seawater, ocean circulation and mixing based on chemical and isotopic tracers, marine organic and natural products chemistry, geochemical interactions of sediments with seawater and interstitial waters, among other things.
  • Physical Oceanography is the study of physical processes in the oceans. This includes the study of waves, tides, mixing, and transport.

    Marine Biology is defined by the Scripps page as "the study of marine organisms, their development, and their adaptations. It is concerned with evolutionary, organismic, genetic, physiological, and biochemical processes in marine organisms, and the relationship between them and their biotic and physical environment."

    So if you want a definition of a "Deep Sea Biology", you can substitute the term "deep sea" for "marine" in the above paragraph. The deep ocean is of interest to oceanographers of all stripes, because it is potentially important on a number of scales, from planetary (e.g. the global ocean conveyer belt, which is a pattern of circulation in the deep ocean over much of the planet; the sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere), to small scale (e.g. deep sea vents; microorganisms that live in the water and sediments).

    Using my definitions, you could say that Biological Oceanographers are mostly interested in populations and the physical/chemical environment, while Marine (and Deep-Sea) biologists are interested in things like evolution, genetics, physiology and biochemistry. However, there's lots and lots of overlap, and Biological Oceanographers often use things like genetic markers, physiological rate measurements and biochemical markers in their work, and work to develop them. Overall, I'd say there's really not much difference!

    Rob Campbell, MAD Scientist/Marine Biologist/Biological Oceanographer

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