The Ocean: Climate, Resources, and Natural Disasters

Recent years have seen heated discussions on global warming. The anthropogenic contribution to this process, the possible development and consequences of this situation, and the ocean's role in climate formation on the planet are also questionable. An RAS Presidium meeting was dedicated to these problems.

The Ocean: Climate, Resources, and Natural Disasters

Academician Robert Iskanderovich Nigmatulin
director of the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology, RAS.

Different concepts exist about the ocean. Vladimir Mayakovski gave us its poetic image:
When you are in the middle of the Black Sea or an ocean, there is no visible difference: no coasts to be seen; the waves in the ocean and at sea are the same; but the feeling that America lies ahead and Europe is behind is the feeling of the ocean itself.

This article will, of course, deal with the ocean as an object of science that covers 70% of the earth's surface and whose mass is about 1018 t, i.e., one billion times a billion tons (the atmosphere's mass, 10b t, is 1000 times smaller). The ocean has been providing people with food and transportation routes since time immemorial, and more and more oil and gas are produced at sea. However, the ocean is also a source of natural disasters: destructive hurricanes, tsunamis, and rogue waves. The ocean is a very important factor of weather and climate change.

Modern Oceanology, unlike oceanography, unites the methods of several sciences to study seas and oceans. First, these are physical and mathematical sciences, such as hydrodynamics, hydrophysics, hydrology, wave dynamics, acoustics, heat exchange, mass exchange, and mathematical modeling. Second, these are biology and ecology, which study the transformation of biological substance, food chains, the interaction of ecological systems, and the ocean's plant and animal life. Third, these are geological sciences, such as geology, geochemistry, and geophysics, which study the ocean floor, coastal zones, the shelf, slopes, sedimentary strata, and mineral resources. Fourth, this is engineering, i.e., research vessels, underwater vehicles, equipment, sensors, underwater probes, and robots.

At the time when the Institute of Oceanology was established, the resolution of the Presidium of the USSR Academy of Sciences of January 31, 1946, signed by the Academy's President S.I. Vavilov and prepared by Academician P.P. Shirshov (1905-1953) and Prof. V.G. Bogorov (1904-1971, a corresponding member of the Academy from 1958), envisaged "ocean and sea research based on the concept of the unity of physical, chemical, biological, and geological processes under way in seas and oceans". This resolution of the Academy's Presidium followed the resolution of the USSR Council of People's Commissars on the establishment of the Institute of Oceanology of the USSR Academy of Sciences, which I.V. Stalin signed on December 24, 1945, in the year when the Great Patriotic War ended.

The Shirshov Institute of Oceanology has seven vessels for marine expeditions. Three of them are large (6300-67001 displacement): Akademik Sergei Vavilov, Akademik loffe, and Akademik Mstislav Keldysh. The two medium-sized vessels are Professor Shtokman (17001) and Rift (13001), and the two small vessels are Shelf (2801) and Ashamba (301). We also have the two famous deep-sea vehicles Mir-1 and Mir-2 with a submergence depth of 6000 m, and this covers 98.5% of the world ocean's floor. We also have relevant probes, robots, etc. In addition, the Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry, RAS, has the vessel Akademik Boris Petrov (24001), and the RAS Institute of Geology, the vessel Akademik Nikolai Strakhov (2400 t), equipped with high-resolution seismic equipment.

The operation of the above three large vessels that belong to the Institute of Oceanology has become very expensive. In particular, a daylong voyage of such a vessel costs 700 000 rubles, and its downtime in the home port of Kaliningrad is 50 000 rubles a day. Therefore, the current financing of oceanic research makes the use of these three vessels possible only jointly with commercial firms. Annually, the Institute of Oceanology conducts at least four expeditions to the world ocean on these large vessels. We measure "sections" (temperature distributions by horizon and by depth, salinity, current speeds, oxygen content, and other parameters) along the 60th degree in the North Atlantic and across the Drake Passage, which separates South America from Antarctica, as well as in the near-bottom Vema Channel and in other regions of the South Atlantic. In addition, every year we organize several expeditions on other vessels in the Baltic, Black, Caspian, Barents, White, and Kara seas. Deepwater vehicles were used during the expeditions to the North Pole (2007) and Lake Baikal (2008-2009).

The number of ocean and sea expeditions has been growing over the past five years. In 2009 we conducted 19 expeditions, 8 of which were to the North and South Atlantic. Their total length was 644 days.


Mailing address

Shirshov Institute of Oceanology
of the Russian Academy of Sciences,
36 Nahimovskiy pr., Moscow, 117997, Russia
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Lecture course

Course of lectures of Academician RI Nigmatulin "Fundamentals of continuum mechanics" for students of the Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics of Moscow State University


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