By: Zia Mahmood Minhas
Basic Information About Oceans
The word ocean has its origin from the ancient Greek i.e. ‘Okeanos’. Ocean is a body of saline water that contains the major part of planet earth’s hydrosphere. The sea is interchangeably used with ocean (As will be used in the coming pages) but technically, sea is a body of saline water partly or fully enclosed by land. The depth of oceans varies with an average of 3790 meters. The deepest point is reported to be 10971 meters at Mariana Trench in Pacific Ocean near Northern Mariana Islands
In Arabic ‘Bahar’ is used for large bodies of water i.e. both for seas and rivers
Earth has the following oceans in descending order of area:
Approximately 72% of Earth’s surface is covered by oceans which contain 97% of planet’s water. Most of the ocean bottom remains unexplored / unmapped and only 5% of oceans have been explored so far. The oceans play a vital role in sustenance of life on Earth. It forms part of the carbon cycle and have great influence on climate.
Oceans and Qur’an
The importance of oceans and water on the planet has been emphasized by Allah in the following verses of the Qur’an:
إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ وَالْفُلْكِ الَّتِي تَجْرِي فِي الْبَحْرِ بِمَا يَنفَعُ النَّاسَ
وَمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّـهُ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مِن مَّاءٍ فَأَحْيَا بِهِ الْأَرْضَ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا وَبَثَّ فِيهَا مِن كُلِّ دَابَّةٍ وَتَصْرِيفِ الرِّيَاحِ
(وَالسَّحَابِ الْمُسَخَّرِ بَيْنَ السَّمَاءِ وَالْأَرْضِ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ(١٦٤
In the creations of the heaven and the earth ,in the cycle of night and day, in ships that plough the sea, to mankind’s benefit, in what Allah causes to descend from the sky of water, giving life to earth hitherto dead, and peopling it with all manner of crawling creatures. In varying the winds and clouds, which run their course, between sky and earth __.In these are signs for people who reflect.
(Soorah Al-Baqarah 2:164)
There are lots of references to the oceans in the Qur’an. These can be categorized in three main headings:
- Oceans in the service of mankind
- Darkness in ocean waters
- Barriers in mixing of neighboring sea waters and estuaries.
Oceans in the Service of Mankind
Oceans have been inspiring human beings for generations .They have been creating feelings of fascination as well as fear and awe. Allah has emphasized the importance of seas in the following verses.
اللَّـهُ الَّذِي خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ وَأَنزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَأَخْرَجَ بِهِ مِنَ الثَّمَرَاتِ رِزْقًا لَّكُمْ ۖ وَسَخَّرَ لَكُمُ الْفُلْكَ
(لِتَجْرِيَ فِي الْبَحْرِ بِأَمْرِهِ ۖ وَسَخَّرَ لَكُمُ الْأَنْهَارَ(٣٢
Allah is Who created the heavens and the earth. Who made the water descend from the sky, from which He brought forth nourishment, a bounty upon you. Who made ships to serve you, Running in the seas by His command, and rivers to serve you.
(Soorah Ibrahim 14:32)
وَهُوَ الَّذِي سَخَّرَ الْبَحْرَ لِتَأْكُلُوا مِنْهُ لَحْمًا طَرِيًّا وَتَسْتَخْرِجُوا مِنْهُ حِلْيَةً تَلْبَسُونَهَا وَتَرَى الْفُلْكَ مَوَاخِرَ فِيهِ وَلِتَبْتَغُوا مِن
(فَضْلِهِ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ ﴿١٤
It is He Who made the sea to serve you so that you may eat from it soft flesh and extract from it jewellery for you to wear. Therein you can see ships ploughing through the waves that you may seek His bounty- perchance you will give thanks.
(Soorah An-Nahl 16:14)
(أَلَمْ تَرَ أَنَّ الْفُلْكَ تَجْرِي فِي الْبَحْرِ بِنِعْمَتِ اللَّـهِ لِيُرِيَكُم مِّنْ آيَاتِهِ ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّكُلِّ صَبَّارٍ شَكُورٍ ﴿٣١
Have you not seen that ships run in the sea by Allah’s blessings, to make you see His wonders? In this are signs for every steadfast, much-thankful person.
(Soorah Luqman 31:31)
(يَخْرُجُ مِنْهُمَا اللُّؤْلُؤُ وَالْمَرْجَانُ ﴿٢٢﴾ فَبِأَيِّ آلَاءِ رَبِّكُمَا تُكَذِّبَانِ ﴿٢٣﴾ وَلَهُ الْجَوَارِ الْمُنشَآتُ فِي الْبَحْرِ كَالْأَعْلَامِ ﴿٢٤
From both come forth pearl and coral. So which of the two of you decline? To Him belong running ships galleons ploughing the sea like mountains— tops.
(Soorah Ar-Rehman 55:22-24)
(وَآيَةٌ لَّهُمْ أَنَّا حَمَلْنَا ذُرِّيَّتَهُمْ فِي الْفُلْكِ الْمَشْحُونِ ﴿٤١﴾ وَخَلَقْنَا لَهُم مِّن مِّثْلِهِ مَا يَرْكَبُونَ ﴿٤٢
A sign for them is that we carried their progeny in the laden Ark, and fashioned its like of ships for them to embark therein.
(Soorah Ya Sin 36: 41-42)
Significance of oceans:
–Oceans have been a source of human food from times immemorial. It has been estimated that about 10% protein for human intake comes from the oceans. The oceans are full of life which is diverse, vibrant and beautiful. It is reported that oceans are habitat of about 230,000 species. Plankton and other microorganisms form the base of ocean’s food chain and fish and other species use it as food. The smaller animals then become prey to larger ones.
Life forms in oceans include:
- Radiata (jellyfish)
- Cetacea (whales, dolphins and porpoises)
- Cephalopods (octopus, squid)
- Crustaceans (lobsters, clams , shrimp and krill)
- Marin worms
- Echinoderms (brittle stars, starfish, sea cucumbers and sand dollars)
-The oceans have inexhaustible food reserves for mankind. The exploitation of food from the ocean will be greater in future as the land sources become scarce.
-The oceans are essential for transportation. Though the alternate inland transport means have developed, the oceans are still major economical and viable option for global trade.
-The oceans are source of pearls for ornaments .Pearls are produced by Oysters. When any foreign particles enter their bodies, they secrete a viscous substance that covers the foreign particles and solidifies to form a pearl.
-Coral is an animal which attaches to rocks by its lower body part. The hardcore bodies form coral upon death. The coral has been widely used as source for building material.
-Ocean water is processed to extract commercially valuable minerals such as salt, bromine and magnesium. Sand and gravel are also mined from shallow sea bed.
-Oceans have huge oil and gas deposits which are being exploited for ever growing energy needs.
Darkness in Ocean Waters:
The following verses cover the phenomena of darkness and storms in oceans:
أَوْ كَظُلُمَاتٍ فِي بَحْرٍ لُّجِّيٍّ يَغْشَاهُ مَوْجٌ مِّن فَوْقِهِ مَوْجٌ مِّن فَوْقِهِ سَحَابٌ ۚ ظُلُمَاتٌ بَعْضُهَا
(فَوْقَ بَعْضٍ إِذَا أَخْرَجَ يَدَهُ لَمْ يَكَدْ يَرَاهَا ۗ وَمَن لَّمْ يَجْعَلِ اللَّـهُ لَهُ نُورًا فَمَا لَهُ مِن نُّورٍ ﴿٤٠
Or else they are like shades obscure over a vast ocean, Enveloped by the waves, Above which are waves, Above which is fog; Darkest shades piled one upon the other. If he stretches forth his hand, he can scarcely see it. He on whom Allah sheds no light, no light has he.
(Soorah An-Noor 24:40)
وَإِذَا غَشِيَهُم مَّوْجٌ كَالظُّلَلِ دَعَوُا اللَّـهَ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ الدِّينَ فَلَمَّا نَجَّاهُمْ إِلَى الْبَرِّ فَمِنْهُم مُّقْتَصِدٌ ۚ وَمَا يَجْحَدُ بِآيَاتِنَا إِلَّا كُلُّ
(خَتَّارٍ كَفُورٍ ﴿٣٢
And if the waves cover them like arching shadows, they pray to Allah, sincere in faith. But when He delivers them safely to shore, some retain a little faith. But none repudiate our signs sans the treacherous blasphemer.
(Soorah Luqman 31:32)
(وَإِن نَّشَأْ نُغْرِقْهُمْ فَلَا صَرِيخَ لَهُمْ وَلَا هُمْ يُنقَذُونَ ﴿٤٣﴾ إِلَّا رَحْمَةً مِّنَّا وَمَتَاعًا إِلَىٰ حِينٍ ﴿٤٤
If We wish We can drown them–no screaming to be heard from them, nor can they be saved, unless it be a mercy from Us and a brief enjoyment of life.
(Soorah Ya-Sin 36:43-44)
About 3-30% light is reflected from the surface of ocean. The light diminishes as one goes deeper in the sea. Salts in sea water, organic matter, chlorophyll and microscopic life give a bluish color to the sea water and also add to its darkness. Oceanographers divide the ocean into different zones, depending on the prevailing physical and biological conditions i.e.:
a)Photic zone( The sunlight zone ) covers the oceans from surface level to 200 meters down. Here photosynthesis can occur and is host to diverse creatures.
b)Aphotic zone is area exceeding 200 meters depth. This is further categorized in vertical depths according to temperature and intensity of light.
i)Mesopelagic region(The Twilight Zone): The uppermost region up to the depth of 700-1000 meters. The average temperature is 12C.
ii) Bathypelagic region(The Midnight Zone):It has the depth between 700-1000 meters to 2000- 4000 meters. The average temperature is 4-10˚C.
iii)Abyssopelagic region(The Abyss): lower boundary lies at about 6600 meters.
iv)Hadalpelagic region(The trenches): lies between 6000-11000 meters and includes deep trenches. It is deepest oceanic zone
The sea organisms at the deeper zones of the oceans differ from the normal photic zone. The fish species at the depth between 600-2700 meters have organs which emit light for pursuing prey and path finding.
Currents/Waves in Oceans
-The sea currents are termed as “thermohaline circulation” and are two types i.e. surface currents and deep water currents. Surface heat and fresh water fluxes result in impact that creates and sustains large scale ocean currents. Ocean currents have great impact on climate of earth, changing temperatures of continents, rainfall, carbon dioxide concentrations and ice regulation in polar region. It is widely believed that the temperate climate of Western Europe is due to sea currents, which has resulted in its long term development and domination of its civilization in comity of nations.
-The currents in depths are created due to difference in temperature, density, pressure between different zones. Due to thermohaline circulation water from the depth of sea moves to the surface.
-The horizon of oceans is mostly covered by thick clouds creating more darkness. Most amazing phenomena occurring on the sea are storms and hurricanes which may last three to four days with waves as high as mountains and troughs as deep as valleys. Waves are usually 25 ft high and may reach high of 130 ft during storm. These hit the coastal areas with brutal force. The waves arising due to earthquake in the seas result in tsunami and cause devastation, killing thousands of people and damage to that on sea and in populated areas. Man despite huge technological advances is helpless against these natural forces. Those caught in storms are at the mercy of nature and they have no option but pray sincerely to Allah who the only One is having the power to save them. The height of stubbornness is that most of them forget Him and this manifests their ungratefulness to their saviour.
The description of extreme darkness in seas, existence of multi-layered waves unknown to the Arabs and other nations at that time is very close to what was discovered centuries later. Much of the oceans especially at greater depths are still unexplored. Keeping in view that the Prophet never went on a deep sea voyage; we have to accept that the Qur’an is revealed by almighty Allah.
Barriers in Mixing of Neighboring Sea Waters and Estuaries
The Qur’an refers to creation of barriers by Allah on the meeting point of two oceans and between river and sea water when river discharges into sea. This phenomenon has been described in the following verses:
أَمَّن جَعَلَ الْأَرْضَ قَرَارًا وَجَعَلَ خِلَالَهَا أَنْهَارًا وَجَعَلَ لَهَا رَوَاسِيَ وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَ الْبَحْرَيْنِ حَاجِزًا ۗ أَإِلَـٰهٌ مَّعَ اللَّـهِ ۚ بَلْ
(أَكْثَرُهُمْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ ﴿٦١
Is it not He who made the earth be at rest, and made rivers run through it, and erected mountains therein, and built a barrier between the two seas? Is there to be another god with Allah? Truly, most of them have no understanding.
(Soorah An-Naml 27:61)
(وَهُوَ الَّذِي مَرَجَ الْبَحْرَيْنِ هَـٰذَا عَذْبٌ فُرَاتٌ وَهَـٰذَا مِلْحٌ أُجَاجٌ وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَهُمَا بَرْزَخًا وَحِجْرًا مَّحْجُورًا ﴿٥٣
It is He Who merged the two seas, this one fresh and sweet water, that one salty and bitter. Between them he erected a barrier, an impassable boundary.
(Soorah Al-Furqan 25:53)
(مَرَجَ الْبَحْرَيْنِ يَلْتَقِيَانِ ﴿١٩﴾ بَيْنَهُمَا بَرْزَخٌ لَّا يَبْغِيَانِ ﴿٢٠﴾ فَبِأَيِّ آلَاءِ رَبِّكُمَا تُكَذِّبَانِ ﴿٢١
He brought two seas together but as they meet, between them is a barrier, they do not overrun. So which of your Lords blessings will the two of you deny?
(Soorah Ar-Rehman 55:19-21)
In Soorah An-Namal , existence of barrier has been conveyed without further elaboration. But the phenomenon has further been dealt with in the referred verses of Soorah Al-Furqan and Ar-Rehman. This can be discussed under two headings.
- Mixing of fresh and saline waters
- Mixing of saline sea waters
Mixing of fresh and saline waters:
This phenomenon occurs when rivers discharge their water into sea. This area is called estuary. In Soorah Al-Furqan Qur’an informs us of existence of an impassable barrier between the two merging bodies.
Scientific researchers have shown that the sea and river water do not mix or homogenize in estuary. They form a ‘Pycnocline zone’ with a marked density separating two layers. This zone has distinct density which differs from both river and sea water. The estuary zone separates the sea creatures of river and sea since they cannot survive in environment different from their habitat.
An interesting scene is observed at the confluence of Rhone and Arve rivers in Geneva, Switzerland.
|Meeting Point of Arve &Rhone Rivers|
The Rhone exits from Lake Lehman and its water is clear and gives greenish blue look. The Arve, however, receives water from glaciers and contains higher level of silt that gives it a brownish look. The contrasting waters of these rivers can be clearly distinguished at the meeting point.
|Similar situation prevails in other rivers like Mississippi estuary and meeting point of rivers Chang Jiang and Jialing in China.|
|Meeting Point of rivers Chang Jiang and Jialing|
Mississppi River Estuary
Mixing of saline sea waters:
This phenomenon occurs when two oceans meet .Despite no apparent barrier, waves, currents, tides and ebb and other factors causing turbulence, the neighboring oceans retain their characteristics. This is due to presence of a barrier which allows slow passing and mixing of saline waters and results in retention of original characteristics of the oceans. This barrier moves between them and also termed as ‘front’. This phenomenon has been referred in Soorah Ar-Rehman 55:19-21.
This discovery is result of extensive research over a long period of recent past. An important project was British marine scientific expedition of the Challenger Voyage in 1873 and was completed in 23 years .Another elaborate research was initiated in 1933 by Americans in Mexican gulf.
These projects concluded that seas differ in respect of salinity, temperature, density, flora and fauna and solubility of oxygen. The phenomenon of sea barriers occurs in several places including the divider between Mediterranean and the Atlantic, Mexican gulf, Oman gulf, and Arabian Gulf.
Meeting point of Mediterranean and Atlantic Oceans:
Satellite Image of Strait of Jibralter
The Mediterranean and Atlantic Oceans meet at strait of Gibraltar that lies between the southern coast of Spain and the northern coast of Morocco.
The water of Mediterranean has average temperature of 11.5˚C, salinity 36.5 parts per thousand and looks blue. The Atlantic water has temperature 10˚C, salinity level less than 36.5 parts per thousand and looks green. As the water flows into and out of Mediterranean, two currents are formed in the strait. An upper layer of Atlantic water flows eastward into the sea over a lower layer of saltier and heavier Mediterranean water flowing westward into the ocean. The both waters keep their distinctive characters for hundreds of kilometers to the depth of 1000 meters, despite mixing due to presence of the barrier. It is also to be noted that Qur’an mentions the barrier of estuary as an ‘impassable barrier’ while the meeting point of neighboring seas has been denoted simply as ‘barrier’ which is scientifically true. As we see the marine research breakthrough is of recent origin, these facts were ‘however’ disclosed by divine message of Qur’an above fourteen centuries ago.