Ocean Floor: Definition & Features

Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

The ocean floor may be more exciting to explore than any mountain above sea level. Read this lesson to learn about what you'll see on the ocean floor from abysses and slopes to hydrothermal vent ecosystems.

What Is the Ocean Floor?

This lesson is all about the ocean floor. Just what is the ocean floor? The ocean floor is literally the floor of the ocean. It is the bottom of the ocean when you dive. Not too many people have gone to the floor of the ocean as it requires special diving equipment since the water pressure is very high the farther down you go. You can't be without protective equipment when you are down that deep. The pressure of the water would crush you.

Scientists are using various other techniques such as radar to explore the ocean floor. According to Scientific American, the ocean floor has been mapped to a resolution of 5 kilometers as of 2014. This means that anything larger than 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) can be seen. From this mapping, you'd be able to see the canyons, abysses, and slopes of the ocean floor.

Landscape of the Ocean Floor

These canyons, abysses, and slopes make up the landscape of the ocean floor. This landscape is pretty unique. For example, above water, you have the Grand Canyon that anybody can climb down into. Underwater, on the ocean floor, you have abysses that are so deep that only one submersible, the Deepsea Challenger, is capable of reaching the bottom.

You'll also see things that look like mountains. Since these are underwater, they are called seamounts. You may even see these seamounts with steam coming out as they are active volcanoes that haven't made their way past the surface of the ocean. You'll see cliffs that are part of the continental slopes of the various continents. You'll see trenches similar to deep ravines. Pretty much, you'll see what you see on land, just more dramatic - the cliffs are steeper, the abysses are deeper, and there's no light once you get deep enough.

Here is a view of a map of the ocean floor.
ocean floor

Life on the Ocean Floor

Unlike what you see on land, most of the ocean floor is lifeless. When you go deep enough on the ocean floor, sunlight stops penetrating, so there isn't much life in these dark waters. Closer to shore, you'll find coral forests on the ocean floor that are home to a myriad of sea creatures from little clownfish to sea urchins. In other parts of the ocean floor, you'll find king crabs and flounders. In still other parts of the ocean, you'll find mussels and clams with pearls inside them.

Close to shore, coral forests are found on the ocean floor.
ocean floor

Deep Ocean Ecosystems

Back in 1977, a very interesting discovery was made on the deep ocean floor where no light penetrates. While most life on this planet requires sunlight to live, there is an ecosystem on the deep ocean floor that doesn't need sunlight to process food. Instead, in this ecosystem called the deep ocean hydrothermal vent ecosystem, living organisms rely on the chemosynthesis process instead of the photosynthesis process. Rather than relying on sunlight, they rely on chemicals. It all starts with bacteria that feed on chemicals such as hydrogen sulfide. These bacteria are the beginnings of the food chain in this unique ecosystem that doesn't rely on sunlight. Other organisms can now feed on these bacteria, and still other organisms feed on these organisms that feed on the bacteria.

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