Today’s chart is best viewed full-screen. Explore the high resolution version by clicking here.
Sailors have been circumnavigating the high seas for centuries now, but what could be found beneath the sunlit surface of the ocean remained a mystery until far more recently. In fact, it wasn’t until 1875, during the Challenger expedition, that humanity got it’s first concrete idea of how deep the ocean actually was.
Today’s graphic, another fantastic piece by xkcd, is a unique and entertaining look at everything from Lake Superior’s ice encrusted shoreline down to blackest, inhospitable trench (which today bears the name of the expedition that first discovered it).
The graphic is packed with detail, so we’ll only highlight a few points of interest.
Deep Thoughts with Lake Baikal
Deep in Siberia, abutting a mountainous stretch of the Mongolian border, is the one of the most remarkable bodies of water on Earth: Lake Baikal. There are a number of qualities that make Lake Baikal stand out.
Depth: Baikal, located in a massive continental rift, is the deepest lake in the world at 1,642m (5,387ft). That extreme depth holds a lot of fresh water. In fact, an estimated 22% of all the world’s fresh water can be found in the lake.
Age: Baikal (which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is estimated to be over 25 million years old, making it the most ancient lake on the planet.
Clarity: Interestingly, the water in the lake is exceptionally clear. In winter, visibility can extend over 30m (98ft) below the surface.
Biodiversity: The unique ecosystem of Lake Baikal provides a home for thousands of plant and animal species. In fact, upwards of 80% of those species are endemic, meaning they are unique to that region.
Who is Alvin?
Since 1964, a hard-working research submersible named Alvin has been helping us better understand the deep ocean. Alvin explored the wreckage of RMS Titanic in 1986, and helped confirm the existence of black smokers (one of the weirdest ecosystems in the world).
Though most of the components of the vessel have been replaced and upgraded over the years, it’s still in use today. In 2020, Alvin received an $8 million upgrade, and is now capable of exploring 99% of the ocean floor.
We know more about the surface of Venus than the bottom of the ocean. The potential for discovery is huge.– Anna-Louise Reysenbach, Professor of Microbiology, PSU
The Ocean’s Deepest Point
The deepest point in the ocean is the Mariana Trench, at 11,034 meters (36,201 feet).
This trench is located in the Pacific Ocean, near Guam and the trench’s namesake, the Mariana Islands. While the trench is the most extreme example of ocean depths, when compared to surface level distance, it’s depth is shorter than Manhattan.
Obviously, the context of surface distance is wildly different than vertical distance, but it serves as a reminder of how narrow the “explorable” band of the Earth’s surface is.
The ancient Greek word, ábyssos, roughly means “unfathomable, bottomless gulf”. While there is a bottom (the abyssopelagic zone comprises around 75% of the ocean floor), the enormous scale of this ecosystem is certainly unfathomable.
Objectively, the abyssal plain is not the prettiest part of the ocean. It’s nearly featureless, and lacks the panache of, say, a coral reef, but there are still some very compelling reasons we’re eager to explore it. Resource companies are chiefly interested in polymetallic nodules, which are essentially rich manganese formations scattered about on the sea bottom.
Manganese is already essential in steel production, but demand is also getting a substantial lift from the fast-growing electric vehicle market. The first company to find an economical way to harvest nodules from the ocean floor could reap a significant windfall.
Drill Baby, Drill
Demand for resources can force humans into some very inhospitable places, and in the case of Deepwater Horizon, we chased oil to a depth even surpassing the famed Marianas Trench.
Drilling that far below the surface is a complicated endeavor, and when the drill platform was put into service in 2001, it was hailed as an engineering marvel. To this day, Deepwater Horizon holds the record for the deepest offshore hole ever made.
After the rig’s infamous explosion and subsequent spill in 2010, that depth record for drilling may stand the test of time.
Where Will the World’s Next 1,000 Babies Be Born?
This graphic paints a picture of the world’s population, showing which countries are most likely to welcome the next 1,000 babies.
Where Will the World’s Next 1,000 Babies Be Born?
View a higher resolution version of this map.
Every four minutes, approximately 1,000 babies are born across the globe. But in which countries are these babies the most statistically likely to come from?
Using data from the CIA World Factbook, this graphic by Pratap Vardhan (Stats of India) paints a picture of the world’s demographics, showing which countries are most likely to welcome the next 1,000 babies based on population and birth rates as of 2022 estimates.
The Next 1,000 Babies, By Country
Considering India has a population of nearly 1.4 billion, it’s fairly unsurprising that it ranks first on the list. Of every 1,000 babies born, the South Asian country accounts for roughly 172 of them.
|Place||Region||Births Per 1,000 Global Babies|
|🇨🇩 Congo, Democratic Republic of the||Africa||31.90|
|🇺🇸 United States||Americas||30.42|
|🇿🇦 South Africa||Africa||7.84|
|🇨🇮 Cote d'Ivoire||Africa||5.97|
|🇧🇫 Burkina Faso||Africa||5.41|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||Europe||5.37|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||Asia||3.69|
|🇸🇸 South Sudan||Africa||3.19|
|🇰🇵 Korea, North||Asia||2.71|
|🇰🇷 Korea, South||Asia||2.63|
|🇱🇰 Sri Lanka||Asia||2.35|
|🇸🇱 Sierra Leone||Africa||2.06|
|🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea||Oceania||2.04|
|🇩🇴 Dominican Republic||Americas||1.42|
|🇨🇫 Central African Republic||Africa||1.31|
|🇨🇬 Congo, Republic of the||Africa||1.30|
|🇸🇻 El Salvador||Americas||0.86|
|🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates||Asia||0.79|
|🇨🇷 Costa Rica||Americas||0.55|
|🇵🇸 West Bank||Asia||0.54|
|🇳🇿 New Zealand||Oceania||0.47|
|🇭🇰 Hong Kong||Asia||0.43|
|🇵🇸 Gaza Strip||Asia||0.41|
|🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea||Africa||0.37|
|🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina||Europe||0.24|
|🇵🇷 Puerto Rico||Americas||0.18|
|🇲🇰 North Macedonia||Europe||0.16|
|🇸🇧 Solomon Islands||Oceania||0.12|
|🇹🇹 Trinidad and Tobago||Americas||0.11|
|🇨🇻 Cabo Verde||Africa||0.08|
|🇸🇹 Sao Tome and Principe||Africa||0.04|
|🇧🇸 Bahamas, The||Americas||0.04|
|🇳🇨 New Caledonia||Oceania||0.03|
|🇵🇫 French Polynesia||Oceania||0.03|
|🇱🇨 Saint Lucia||Americas||0.01|
|🇫🇲 Micronesia, Federated States of||Oceania||0.01|
|🇲🇭 Marshall Islands||Oceania||0.01|
|🇦🇬 Antigua and Barbuda||Americas||0.01|
|🇻🇨 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Americas||0.01|
|🇻🇮 Virgin Islands||Americas||0.01|
|🇮🇲 Isle of Man||Europe||0.01|
|🇲🇵 Northern Mariana Islands||Oceania||0.01|
|🇹🇨 Turks and Caicos Islands||Americas||0.01|
|🇫🇴 Faroe Islands||Europe||0.01|
|🇦🇸 American Samoa||Oceania||0.01|
|🇰🇾 Cayman Islands||Americas||0.01|
|🇰🇳 Saint Kitts and Nevis||Americas||0.00|
|🇸🇽 Sint Maarten||Americas||0.00|
|🇲🇫 Saint Martin||Americas||0.00|
|🇻🇬 British Virgin Islands||Americas||0.00|
|🇸🇲 San Marino||Europe||0.00|
|🇼🇫 Wallis and Futuna||Oceania||0.00|
|🇨🇰 Cook Islands||Oceania||0.00|
|🇸🇭 Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha||Africa||0.00|
|🇧🇱 Saint Barthelemy||Americas||0.00|
|🇫🇰 Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)||Americas||0.00|
|🇵🇲 Saint Pierre and Miquelon||Americas||0.00|
It’s worth noting that, while India ranks number one on the list, the country’s birth rate (which is its total number of births in a year per 1,000 individuals) is actually slightly below the global average, at 16.8 compared to 17.7 respectively.
China, which comes second on the list, is similar to India, with a high population but relatively low birth rate as well. On the other hand, Nigeria, which ranks third on the list, has a birth rate that’s nearly double the global average, at 34.2.
Why is Nigeria’s birth rate so high?
There are various intermingling factors at play, but one key reason is the fact that Nigeria’s economy still is developing, and ranks 131st globally in terms of GDP per capita. Further, access to education for women is still not as widespread as it could be, and research shows that this is strongly correlated with higher birth rates.
The World’s Population Growth Rate is Declining
While there are hundreds of thousands of babies born around the world each day, it’s worth mentioning that the world’s overall population growth rate has actually been declining since the 1960s.
This is happening for a number of reasons, including:
- Increased wealth around the world, which research has correlated with fewer births
- Various government policies discouraging large families
- The global shift from rural to urban living
By 2100, global population growth is expected to drop to 0.1%, which means we’ll essentially reach net-zero population growth.
This would increase our global median age even further, which poses a number of economic risks if countries don’t properly prepare for this demographic shift.
All the Contents of the Universe, in One Graphic
We explore the ultimate frontier: the composition of the entire known universe, some of which are still being investigated today.
All the Contents of the Universe, in One Graphic
Scientists agree that the universe consists of three distinct parts: everyday visible (or measurable) matter, and two theoretical components called dark matter and dark energy.
These last two are theoretical because they have yet to be directly measured—but even without a full understanding of these mysterious pieces to the puzzle, scientists can infer that the universe’s composition can be broken down as follows:
|Free hydrogen and helium||4%|
Let’s look at each component in more detail.
Dark energy is the theoretical substance that counteracts gravity and causes the rapid expansion of the universe. It is the largest part of the universe’s composition, permeating every corner of the cosmos and dictating how it behaves and how it will eventually end.
Dark matter, on the other hand, has a restrictive force that works closely alongside gravity. It is a sort of “cosmic cement” responsible for holding the universe together. Despite avoiding direct measurement and remaining a mystery, scientists believe it makes up the second largest component of the universe.
Free Hydrogen and Helium
Free hydrogen and helium are elements that are free-floating in space. Despite being the lightest and most abundant elements in the universe, they make up roughly 4% of its total composition.
Stars, Neutrinos, and Heavy Elements
All other hydrogen and helium particles that are not free-floating in space exist in stars.
Stars are one of the most populous things we can see when we look up at the night sky, but they make up less than one percent—roughly 0.5%—of the cosmos.
Neutrinos are subatomic particles that are similar to electrons, but they are nearly weightless and carry no electrical charge. Although they erupt out of every nuclear reaction, they account for roughly 0.3% of the universe.
Heavy elements are all other elements aside from hydrogen and helium.
Elements form in a process called nucleosynthesis, which takes places within stars throughout their lifetimes and during their explosive deaths. Almost everything we see in our material universe is made up of these heavy elements, yet they make up the smallest portion of the universe: a measly 0.03%.
How Do We Measure the Universe?
In 2009, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched a space observatory called Planck to study the properties of the universe as a whole.
Its main task was to measure the afterglow of the explosive Big Bang that originated the universe 13.8 billion years ago. This afterglow is a special type of radiation called cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR).
Temperature can tell scientists much about what exists in outer space. When investigating the “microwave sky”, researchers look for fluctuations (called anisotropy) in the temperature of CMBR. Instruments like Planck help reveal the extent of irregularities in CMBR’s temperature, and inform us of different components that make up the universe.
You can see below how the clarity of CMBR changes over time with multiple space missions and more sophisticated instrumentation.
What Else is Out There?
Scientists are still working to understand the properties that make up dark energy and dark matter.
NASA is currently planning a 2027 launch of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, an infrared telescope that will hopefully help us in measuring the effects of dark energy and dark matter for the first time.
As for what’s beyond the universe? Scientists aren’t sure.
There are hypotheses that there may be a larger “super universe” that contains us, or we may be a part of one “island” universe set apart from other island multiverses. Unfortunately we aren’t able to measure anything that far yet. Unravelling the mysteries of the deep cosmos, at least for now, remains a local endeavor.