The origin of the oceans

Planet Earth is unique in the Solar System in containing vast amounts of liquid water in the form of oceans, seas, lakes and rivers. But where did all this water come from?

During its formation some four to five billion years ago, gases such as hydrogen and nitrogen would have burst through cracks in the crust that formed as the surface of the globe gradually cooled. These gases formed a primitive atmosphere.

Among the gases would have been water vapour that condensed to form clouds that enveloped the whole planet. These clouds would have produced almost constant rainfall.

However, with the Earth’s surface still being hot, the rain would have evaporated before reaching the surface.

(Photo by Pauline Eccles)

After millions of years of cooling, caused by the evaporation and the slowing down of volcanic activity, the rain would eventually have been able to stay on the surface as liquid water. The vast amounts of water that condensed from the original clouds filled the low-lying parts of the surface to form the first oceans.

Given that the amount of water currently visible on the planet today would not have been all that different from what originally condensed from the clouds of the first atmosphere, that must have been quite some rainstorm!


What do you think?


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  1. Northwestern University and the University of New Mexico released a study in 2014 that indicates that there is a vast underground ocean of water at a depth of several hundred miles. If correct, there could be up to three times the amount of water as what is contained in all the oceans of the world, at a depth of 250 to 450 miles under us. That certainly explains geological studies that have shown that the amount of ocean water on the planet has fluctuated tremendously in the past, though it is probably rare for that trapped water to make it to the surface, despite being under enormous pressure and at a temperature of roughly 2,000 F. “Super-heated” doesn’t begin to describe it.

      • Verne was ahead of his time. He was off on some of the details but foresaw sending people to the moon, nuclear submarines, and the underground oceans. Still, the amount of water such an ocean apparently holds defies imagination. It is hard to really grasp how much water is in all the oceans, combined. Having a reservoir of three times that much water is staggering. It would help explain some of the problems with the earth’s density, though. There are some apparent anomalies that scientists have struggled for years to understand.

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