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Oceans: The Great Unknown
Who Are NASA's Earth Explorers?

The elementary school student wondering how El Niño will affect tomorrow's weather. The scientist studying connections between ozone and climate change. And the farmer using satellite pictures to keep track of crops. All of these people are Earth Explorers -- they are all curious about the Earth system. This series will introduce you to NASA Earth Explorers, young and old, with many backgrounds and interests.

Gene Feldman

After studying them remotely for more than 20 years, Gene Feldman recently visited the Galapagos Islands. Image Credit: NASA

Gene Feldman has studied the ocean for 25 years. Most of the time, he studies oceans by looking at satellite pictures. He says we know more about the oceans now than we used to. But he also says we have a lot more to learn.

How did Gene become interested in the oceans? Why is it important to study the oceans? We asked Gene these and other questions.

When did you become interested in the oceans?

I think it started when I would spend summers with my grandparents. My grandfather loved fishing, and he would often take me with him. I remember sitting on the beach with him, hearing the birds and watching the waves. I would wonder what was out past the waves and below the surface.

Why is it important to study the oceans?

Life on land exists in a thin layer. The layer begins a few feet below the surface of the soil and goes up into the tops of the trees. But in the ocean, life is found all the way from the very bottom to the top. The deepest part of the ocean is more than seven miles down. Oceans have more room for life than the land or the air does.

Bright orange crabs rest on a black rocky shore

The Galapagos Islands are known for a unique and diverse mix of wildlife. Image Credit: NASA

How much do we know about the oceans?

We know so much more about the oceans today than when I was in school. That was 30 to 40 years ago.

Back then, going out in a boat was one of the few ways to study the ocean. From the boat, we could drag a net through the water and see what we caught. Or we could lower some bottles over the side and pull the water up to see what was in it. There were no satellites looking at the oceans.

Now we have a lot of ways to study the ocean. Satellites watch the ocean from space. Buoys float in the ocean water. Buoys measure things like temperature and how much salt is in the water. Still, we know very little about most of the ocean.

Why don't we know more about the oceans?

The ocean is really a hard place to work. In many ways, it's easier to send a person to space than to the bottom of the ocean. The ocean is dark and cold. In space, you can see forever. Deep in the ocean, you can’t see much. Your light can't shine very far.

Gene Feldman with a camera on the front of a boat

Gene Feldman usually studies the Galapagos Islands through satellite images. He recently visited the islands and took pictures firsthand. Image Credit: NASA

Satellites are great for giving us a wide view of the ocean surface. We can measure temperature. We can measure ocean color. We can measure winds, waves and sea height. But what we can't do from space is look deep down into the ocean.

What advice would you give to students interested in the oceans and Earth?

Never stop asking questions. There are many things we still don't know about this planet. Science is like solving a puzzle. It's really fun trying to figure out how things work and how everything fits together. Doing this is the only way that we can take care of the planet we call home.

Related Resources
OceanWorld   →
Meet the Next Earth Explorers

Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies