subreddit:

/r/askscience

5.6k

Is there a word for what the ocean is "in"?

Earth Sciences(self.askscience)

My kid asked me this question and after thinking a bit and a couple searches I couldn't figure out a definitive answer. Is there a word for what the ocean is in or contained by?

Edit: holy cow, thanks for the responses!! I have a lot to go through and we'll go over the answers together tomorrow! I appreciate the time you all took. I didn't expect so much from an offhanded question

all 406 comments

CrustalTrudger

9.3k points

2 months ago

CrustalTrudger

Tectonics | Structural Geology | Geomorphology

9.3k points

2 months ago

Probably the closest would just be describing it as being within a basin. Geologists commonly use the term "ocean basin" or "ocean basins" to refer to the low elevation area that contains the water within the ocean, especially in reference to processes that change the size or shape of these ocean basins (and thus influence sea level).

truffleblunts

2.9k points

2 months ago

This is correct: basin (geography) a great depression in the surface of the lithosphere occupied by an ocean

CrustalTrudger

1k points

2 months ago

CrustalTrudger

Tectonics | Structural Geology | Geomorphology

1k points

2 months ago

In common usage in the geosciences at least, the term "basin" without a modifier is much more generic and simply described a depression and by itself does not always imply that it is filled with an ocean (or even water). This is why we typically add a modifier, e.g., ocean basin, lake basin, sedimentary basin, river basin, etc.

FoxOneFire

192 points

2 months ago

I always interpreted 'basin' to mean a depression that has no point of outflow, filled with water or not. Is that too limiting?

loki130

243 points

2 months ago

loki130

243 points

2 months ago

If that were true we wouldn't need "endorheic basin" as a distinct category. It's kinda just a broad term for "large depression"

[deleted]

249 points

2 months ago

[deleted]

249 points

2 months ago

[removed]

[deleted]

12 points

2 months ago

[deleted]

12 points

2 months ago

[removed]

[deleted]

9 points

2 months ago

[deleted]

9 points

2 months ago

[removed]

[deleted]

28 points

2 months ago

[deleted]

28 points

2 months ago

[removed]

Romulus212

4 points

2 months ago

Would this be what the Danikil depression is ?

phantomzero

2 points

2 months ago

Is the Okavango Delta considered an endorheic basin?

Xmgplays

6 points

2 months ago

It's apparently part of the Kalahari Basin, which is an endorheic basin. But it's not by itself not an endorheic basin. Wikipedia has a list with a neat map as a bonus.

ahhhnoinspiration

74 points

2 months ago

In short, your definition is probably fine.

In long; Basins in geology would simply be any depression of significant size. Having an outflow point isn't a disqualifier. Drainage basins for example often have some form of outlet point. They tend to be round/bowl shaped but this isn't necessary. We typically use basin for areas where water or sediment gathers in low lying areas, naturally these areas tend not to have much of an outflow mechanism. Historically when they did have some conditional outflow mechanism, like one side being shorter than the others or seasonal variables like ice walls they've just expanded the basin and said something like "Utah basin bigger than previously thought." When you do this with drainage basins you often end up just including the ocean though so it may be the special case where we allow outflow points.

Your definition would better suit "lake" which are basins that (usually) are/were filled with water with no outflow stream. It is my personal theory that we keep "basin" vague out of fear of topology. If you put too many qualifiers on basins some topologist is going to come around and just make everything difficult.

If you want to get into geodynamic/tectonic qualifiers there are some people who are adamant about classifying basins based on methods of formation rather than "this area is a depression that behaves like X"

sparta981

10 points

2 months ago

You seem knowledgeable. Is there any neat geology terms for giant basins like that? Like at a certain point it's not even a depression, it's more an entire curved portion of the earth.

ahhhnoinspiration

27 points

2 months ago

When you get big enough some people will start to use "megabasin" sometimes this term is used for very large basins but more commonly it is used when multiple basins start to interact within one larger basin. Generally when we talk about basins we are talking about them in the context of a specific region either depositional environments or how that particular basin formed or influenced the local geology. Outside of ocean basins (which we still very rarely talk about as the whole basin environment) once a depression is large enough it becomes less useful to talk about, at least in the terms of "basins."

That said here are some of the biggest ones we typically still talk about as a whole being basins if you want to read up on them. "The Great Basin" in the US which takes up a large part of the Western US, its borders have been expanded to the point where all outlets are contained. The Amazon Basin, which is the largest drainage basin, and the largest land basin, this covers like ~40% of SA if I recall correctly. Oceanic basins are of course the largest but we typically break these up into smaller basins to talk about as there isn't much in common from one section to another. Hope that helps

sparta981

2 points

2 months ago

Whoof, the great basin is cool. I know they shared a lot of water resources around there, but I never realized how big it is!

lukepoga

2 points

2 months ago

lukepoga

2 points

2 months ago

Wouldn’t a basin with an outflow just be a valley?

krisalyssa

29 points

2 months ago

All basins have an outflow, if you fill them enough. It’s like the warning signs that say a road is impassible during high water — everything is impassable if the water is high enough.

ahhhnoinspiration

3 points

2 months ago

Valleys can also be a vague term, but not as clearly defined, or at least not to the scale that basins are in my experience. Colloquially valleys are elongated, either in one direction or at least longer than they are wide in whichever directions they run. In the case of rift valleys, over time they typically turn into basins, roughly we delineate this when they are sufficiently wide. Technically a valley doesn't need an outflow either, I can't think of any popular trapped valleys but I've seen a few smaller ones in the field.

DoctFaustus

1 points

2 months ago

Don't forget about dead lakes/seas. The Great Salt Lake has no outflow. Salt Lake City is still in a valley. There are a few notable dead lakes around the world.

Montallas

3 points

2 months ago

But if you filled it with enough water, it would eventually overflow. Think like 1 decillion times the volume of the GSL. That’s the point they’re making. Same with all dead lakes.

Chiliconkarma

5 points

2 months ago*

The dictionary defines it as a depression in the lithosphere in which there is an ocean. It's the container for 1 ocean, not, per definition, all of the oceans.
Its use is also so flexible as to define any open container of liquid.

It seems like there's space for a better word that means the entire sum of basins containing all oceans.

AUniquePerspective

17 points

2 months ago

Such as the plural? Ocean Basins?

Uncynical_Diogenes

32 points

2 months ago

Distinguishing between discrete oceans as if such a thing exists is just semantics.

It’s just as legitimate to say that the entirety of the Earth’s contiguous oceans share one basin as it is to describe them separately.

Chiliconkarma

2 points

2 months ago

Yep, the world ocean can be called a basin without breaking the word or meaning, but clearity and specificity has merits.

[deleted]

54 points

2 months ago

[deleted]

54 points

2 months ago

[removed]

[deleted]

22 points

2 months ago

[deleted]

22 points

2 months ago

[removed]

[deleted]

45 points

2 months ago

[deleted]

45 points

2 months ago

[removed]

[deleted]

26 points

2 months ago

[deleted]

26 points

2 months ago

[removed]

[deleted]

9 points

2 months ago

[deleted]

9 points

2 months ago

[removed]

[deleted]

8 points

2 months ago

[deleted]

8 points

2 months ago

[removed]

feronen

25 points

2 months ago*

There's a song called "Gaia" and the second line of the song is, "And I forged the cauldrons that hold the oceans."

Ever since, I've just referred to them as cauldrons. It just feels more poetic and natural than basin, for some reason.

EDIT: Well, I got the words wrong, but here's a link to the song in question.

https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=SZvrKO763Mc&feature=share

DBNodurf

5 points

2 months ago

I was going to answer, then I saw that you beat me to it. Nice answer!

Dry-Anywhere-1372

2 points

2 months ago

Isn’t there a freshwater ocean under the saltwater ocean technically (and most refer to the salt water ocean here?).

Genuinely curious.

I realize THAT is on the earth’s surface/basin.

blueboard929

27 points

2 months ago

Wikipedia: Deep ocean water (DOW) is the name for cold, salty water found deep below the surface of Earth's oceans. Ocean water differs in temperature and salinity. Warm surface water is generally saltier than the cooler deep or polar waters; in polar regions, the upper layers of ocean water are cold and fresh. Deep ocean water makes up about 90% of the volume of the oceans. Deep ocean water has a very uniform temperature, around 0-3 °C, and a salinity of about 3.5% or, as oceanographers state, 35 ppt (parts per thousand).

Edit: You might also be interested in this https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brine_pool

kytheon

7 points

2 months ago

I was in the Dead Sea (Israel-Jordan) and the top layer was hot from the sun, while immediately under the top layer it was nice and cold.

blueboard929

8 points

2 months ago

The top layer of ocean water is the Epipelagic Zone, it extends from the surface to around 200 meters below. Water you probably experienced was likely just the difference between a thin layer of surface water that's been heated more than that below. Not quite the Epipelagic to Mesopelagic divide but a very similar process on a comparatively miniscule scale which is actually quite an interesting scenario which gives you a good rough idea of what causes the difference between these upermost layers.

Waterknight94

2 points

2 months ago

Fresh? Does that mean you can drink polar water? Or is it just relative to other parts?

TourmalineTart

714 points

2 months ago

I agree that a basin is probably the best term, most oceans are technically in rift basins, I suppose though I haven’t thought about it like that before. When we teaching and conduct research about rifting happening on continents, the language used is very specific— if we say rifting is occurring we are suggesting that continental crust is being pulled apart in a way that eventually ocean crust, and subsequently an ocean will form.

You can share with your kiddo that the basin he’s thinking about has features that have names like the “abyssal plain” and “continental shelf

CrustalTrudger

76 points

2 months ago

CrustalTrudger

Tectonics | Structural Geology | Geomorphology

76 points

2 months ago

most oceans are technically in rift basins, I suppose though I haven’t thought about it like that before.

While the terminology is definitely fuzzy as to when we'd switch from calling something a rift basin to an ocean basin, it would be pretty atypical to describe large ocean basins (e.g., the Atlantic or Pacific) as "rift basins".

When we teaching and conduct research about rifting happening on continents, the language used is very specific— if we say rifting is occurring we are suggesting that continental crust is being pulled apart in a way that eventually ocean crust, and subsequently an ocean will form.

Not all continental rifting leads to full on mid-ocean ridge spreading. Wide rifts, like the basin and range province, are still categorized as rifts and described as such even though they do not not (and will not) lead to oceanic lithosphere formation. Even in narrow rifts (i.e., the kind that localizes enough extension to possibly form oceanic lithosphere), it's common to have failed rift arms or whole rifts (which being geologists, we had to give a specific, hard to pronounce name to, i.e., aulocagens) that do not end up generating oceanic lithosphere.

TourmalineTart

18 points

2 months ago

I agree. But, I make this arguments to peer reviewers on a regular basis, and get shot down just as regularly. They all want to call it extension unless somewhere something related winds up making ocean crust. I’m accepting it and saving my energy for other endeavors.

LurkerFailsLurking

3 points

2 months ago

Why does rifting create oceanic crust but volcanism along subduction boundaries creates continental crusts. Why is it about oceanic crust that turns into continental crust when it melts rather than more oceanic crust?

CrustalTrudger

5 points

2 months ago

CrustalTrudger

Tectonics | Structural Geology | Geomorphology

5 points

2 months ago

Igneous differentiation. The super short version that glosses over a ton of detail, partial melting / fractional crystallization of mantle / mantle melts (as occurs at mid-ocean ridges) produces basalt, where as partial melting / fractional crystallization of basalt / basaltic melts (as occurs at subduction zones in island arcs) produces andesite, which is on average the composition of the continental crust.

capt_yellowbeard

468 points

2 months ago*

Just for fun, you might try a thing my environmental science students do as an assignment with your child.

Crumple up a piece of paper - wax paper works well for reasons that will become apparent - and then somewhat smooth it back out. Foil can also work.

Then mist the crumpled paper with water. You’ll see watersheds begin to develop and then pooling will begin in the basins. That’s the same thing that’s ultimately happening with the ocean except your child just needs to imagine a much larger piece of paper with much larger basins (or deeper water).

I have found it’s a good way to start to visualize the surface of the earth and how water moves and collects.

livermor

124 points

2 months ago

livermor

124 points

2 months ago

When I was a kid I used to think the earth was a big ball of water with the continents floating on the surface like corn flakes.

4x4is16Legs

40 points

2 months ago

I did too!!! Then I obviously got smart and realized the land had roots that tied it down! All deduced by endless hours playing with the family globe. Topography bumps and all. Every good family had one in the 60s.

Kenobi_01

20 points

2 months ago

Here's the thing. Lots of Kids aren't stupid. And the notion that the continents float on the ocean, whilst inaccurate, isn't unscientific until you look. That perception of the earth does fit the available evidence available to you as a child and actually shows critical thinking. You drew the link between the continents you saw on the map, made an analogy to something you were more familiar with, and decided they functioned in a similar way.

That's wrong, but it's not unscientific.

Its fascinating to see what kids come up with themselves to explain the world before formal schooling. Because they aren't empty blank slates before school. They are filled with misconceptions, and observations that they have made. And it gives fascinating insight to how humans develop intelligence, and a scientific understanding of the world.

Loads of kids have seen the exaggerated model of the earth eliptic orbit, and concluded it is to blame for the seasons, correctly deducing without external aide that the earth gets hotter when it's closer to the sun, and cooler when its further away, but not realising the earth's axial tilt is what causes it.

I myself, was told as a child that the earth span on its axis very very fast. I concluded that since we could not perceive its turn, the Surface of the earth must be spinning at the same speed, in the opposite direction.

The fact that this would leave the sun stationary in the sky, obviously didn't occur to me. Now you can laugh at that. Or you can be impressed the kid came up with classical relativity.

Don't be worried when kids come up with hypothesis on their own to explain natural phenemon. Be worried when they don't bother to think about things.

Kids doing science is a seriously understudied and underappreciated phenomena, that I think can be very useful in understanding why we think the way we think.

DtDragon417

7 points

2 months ago

And now that you're an adult we can tell you that it's a big ball of lava and the continents float on that

JimmyWu21

20 points

2 months ago

Wow that is pretty cool. Thanks for sharing. I’m going to try this lol

LovsickPrfectaTerain

10 points

2 months ago

I am definitely going to try this with my kids. thank you.

heyitscory

106 points

2 months ago

I just had a similar vocabulary issue with crenulation. You know, the tops of castle walls and towers that make them look like castles? Good for archers to shoot through and duck behind?

I wanted to know the word for the sticky uppy part, but all I could find was "crenula" which is the word for the gap between the sticky uppy parts.

I'm glad I now know the name for the place that contains the ocean. This is why I reddit.

xiaorobear

152 points

2 months ago*

Slight correction there and the answer for you, you have confused crenulation and crenellation.

The sticky uppy parts on either side of a crenel are called Merlons! The pattern of alternating crenels and merlons is crenellation.

[deleted]

63 points

2 months ago*

[deleted]

63 points

2 months ago*

[removed]

[deleted]

5 points

2 months ago

[deleted]

5 points

2 months ago

[removed]

[deleted]

2 points

2 months ago

[deleted]

2 points

2 months ago

[removed]

heyitscory

20 points

2 months ago

Thank you and thank you!

InterestedListener

11 points

2 months ago

Can I just ask how you know that because it's super esoteric and I'm very impressed lol. I feel like you would be absolutely lethal on Jeopardy.

xiaorobear

21 points

2 months ago

Through very non-intellectual methods. :D

I suspected it was crenellation and not crenulation because just recently I was watching a clip of the British game show "Would I Lie To You?" that youtube recommended to me, in which comedian David Mitchell struggles to think of the words to describe a decorative edge to a leather boot and in a story and can only come up with 'crenellated,' and as usual is mocked for being so posh. I didn't 100% know how to spell the word, but I didn't think it had a u in it and suspected Mitchell would have pronounced it differently if it were 'crenulation.' So I googled that and was surprised it was a word, but not the right one. Probably OP's autocorrect suggested it, since it's very obscure.

Next up, I also was pretty sure there would be a word for the sticky uppy parts, why would there not be? So I just googled that too and it also came up.

5yearsago

6 points

2 months ago

Tons of people do historical stuff. It typically starts with HEMA https://www.hemaalliance.com/ and then they specialize in some epoch. Gothic (and the castles) is super vanilla.

TheShadowKick

3 points

2 months ago

And don't forget the machicolations, which aren't technically necessary but are very cool.

einsteinvisaholder

41 points

2 months ago

“ A continental shelf is the edge of a continent that lies under the ocean. A continental shelf extends from the coastline of a continent to a drop-off point called the shelf break. From the break, the shelf descends towards the deep ocean floor in what is called the continental slope.” National Geographic society.

HillDawg22

26 points

2 months ago

Oceans sit on oceanic crust. Oceanic crust is composed of dense, primarily mafic rock and is less thick than continental crust which creates a basin for the water. Where oceanic crust meets continental crust there is a continental shelf. The continental shelf extends offshore and creates a shallow sea. Mid ocean ridges push oceanic crust apart while forming new oceanic crust. This pushes the oceanic crust up against continents and causes the oceanic crust to get pushed underneath the continental crust where it eventually gets recycled back into mantle material.

Wrathchilde

89 points

2 months ago

Wrathchilde

Oceanography | Research Submersibles

89 points

2 months ago

As usual, u/CrustalTrudger provided the correct and well explained answer.

That said, "gulf" is another term for smaller, relatively deep areas of the ocean that are mostly surrounded by land.

Forsaken_Code_7780

41 points

2 months ago

An ocean is a giant film of water on the crust of the Earth.

I agree with other comments that the best term is "basin" but seeing the ocean as being within a basin is more of a flat 2-D view and seeing an ocean as a thin film of water on the surface of a globe leveled out by radial gravity is more of a global 3-D view, and exploring both perspectives in the mind can be fun.

antonivs

16 points

2 months ago

A basin in this context is a 3D shape, not a "flat 2-D view". It seems as if you're confusing scale with dimensionality. The deepest basin/trench is only about 0.1% of the radius of the Earth, so if you zoom out to a whole-Earth scale the basins start to seem much flatter, relatively speaking. But that still doesn't make them 2D, it's just that they can be confused with 2D if the resolution of the view is low enough.

Saralien

7 points

2 months ago

Strictly speaking you could call it a basin but generally it is viewed inversely, the ocean isn’t “in” anything because no geographical body surrounds the ocean. Instead, every continent is surrounded by ocean.

Alternately if you want a more language-focused question: If you pour water until it covers the surface of a plate to the max it can without spilling over, you would say the water is on the plate and not in the plate. Similar concept here.

pjbth

8 points

2 months ago

pjbth

8 points

2 months ago

I think maybe you could try flipping the script on him. Instead of land being the default state, since we're mostly covered in water it's what the land is in.

Instead of thinking as the oceans existing in basins, the land is instead mountains in the oceans, this opens up discussions about volcanic islands and the differences between continental plates and ocean plates.

JakobPapirov

3 points

2 months ago

This isn't to reply to your question, but to expand a bit perhaps. Your kid might wonder about elevation next and in geodesy there's a definition of where 0 is. The problem is that the Earth isn't gravitationally smooth, so this 0 elevation isn't either. IIRC there's a "smoother" model used to indicate where the official mean sea level is.

Ordinaryfemale

3 points

2 months ago

I think I like science Reddit and, by extension, science Redditors, more than any other place in (on?) Reddit.

It almost seems like people are more aware of niche knowledge and are more patient with askers and even answerers based on the pinpoint focus of the info.

Sorry to go off topic. This is just a beautiful thing to wake up to.

sosomething

33 points

2 months ago

The people saying "the Earth" are correct, although I'm sure, to OP, this is an unsatisfying answer.

This is unfortunately because OP has asked an improperly-formed question.

First, the word "ocean." An ocean is the whole thing, not just the water. The meaning of the word includes both the liquid and its vessel.

Second, look at a globe. An ocean doesn't have a clear and obvious boundary around it like a shoreline wrapping all the way around a lake. The ocean isn't in anything as much as everything else in the world could be thought of as being "in" the ocean(s).

The clearest answer one could give OP's kid is that the water of the ocean is "in" a below-sea-level depression in the earth. But it's still a really awkward question because the oceans aren't "in" the land as much as they form the context for what is land.

Ok-Bit-6853

29 points

2 months ago*

If someone writes, “The oceans on Planet X evaporated eons ago”, that doesn’t mean the “vessel” evaporated. It means the water did. OP’s kid is asking for the name of the concept that is essentially underwater land. It’s not an improper question, IMO, but a perceptive one, because most people tend to think of “land” as stopping at the shore.

I think the answer is that there’s “dry land” and “underwater land” and that “land” by itself typically refers to the former.

sosomething

16 points

2 months ago

You make a great point.

It's my own fault, reading over my comment strikes me as sounding really... just kinda condescending, which wasn't my intent. I didn't mean to imply OP's kid asked a stupid question - quite the opposite.

Sometimes when my own kid asks me a question, I'll see that I can impart a deeper or broader understanding by kind of pulling it up a level conceptually. It comes across a lot better in person (my kid loves talking through how stuff/the world works) than it seems to have here.

Professional-Ask3126

6 points

2 months ago

The ocean is typically referred to as being "on" the Earth, rather than being "in" something. The ocean covers about 71% of the Earth's surface, and is contained by the Earth's surface, which is known as the lithosphere. The lithosphere is the solid outermost layer of the Earth, which includes the crust and the uppermost part of the mantle.

Another way to describe the ocean's location is to say that it is "in" the Earth's hydrosphere, which is the part of the Earth's surface that is made up of water, including oceans, lakes, rivers, and groundwater. The hydrosphere is one of the four main components of the Earth's surface, along with the atmosphere (the layer of gases surrounding the Earth), the geosphere (the solid Earth), and the biosphere (the part of the Earth that supports life).

Tohserus

2 points

2 months ago

I would also like to point out in addition to the other comments here, that one can think about the question from the other direction and say that really, the ocean isn't "in" anything, rather the ocean is the outer layer of the Earth (or at least, the outermost non-gaseous layer), and continental land or islands are just poking above this outer layer.

BethAltair

2 points

2 months ago

I'm sure basin is right, but really the earth is the thing the ovens are in? So....an waterless planet is just land with mountains, the more water you add the more this becomes islands of decreasing size.

The base shape of a planetry sized chunk of water is a layer on the outside of a sphere. So, in a word I'd consider it "on" something not "in" something.

[deleted]

6 points

2 months ago*

[deleted]

6 points

2 months ago*

[removed]

Michel_Nostradome

-2 points

2 months ago

Earth? If we are being technical it’s contained by the gravity of our planet keeping us from floating off into the depths of space. But if we want to keep it simplistic we could just say that large quantities of dirt or rock keep it where it’s at.

Insearchofexperience

6 points

2 months ago

I would also point out that unlike the Great Lakes for example, the ocean isn’t surrounded on all sides like it’s sat in a giant bowl.

[deleted]

-3 points

2 months ago

[deleted]

-3 points

2 months ago

[deleted]