The Oceanography Merit Badge: Your Ultimate Guide In 2024

Learning about the vast oceans that cover over 70% of our planet is something that every Scout should do. By diving into the Oceanography Merit Badge, you’ll equip yourself with the knowledge to explore our precious marine ecosystems, whether along the coastline or on the open seas!

The Oceanography badge blends practical skills with important science concepts. You’ll learn about the four main branches of oceanography and why understanding the oceans is so important to life on Earth. Plus, you’ll take an underwater tour of seafloor features like continental shelves, abyssal plains, and soaring seamounts.

If youd like my help with any Eagle-required badges, you should definitely check out my Difficulty Ranking Guide to Every Eagle-required Badge. There, you’ll also find the links to my other merit badge guides, as well as a description and summary of each badge’s requirements. I know this resource will be helpful to Scouts on their road to Eagle!

Also, remember that ScoutSmarts should just serve as your starting point for merit badge research. In school, we’re taught not to plagiarize, and the same is true for Scouting worksheets. Answer these questions in your own words, do further research, and I promise you’ll gain much more from every merit badge you earn!

There’s a whole world under the sea waiting to be explored. Plus, later on in this exciting badge, you’ll even design and build your own model reef ecosystem! What you learn in earning this merit badge could lead to a lifelong passion for oceanography, science, and discovery.

So, ready to embark on this aquatic journey? Let’s begin our voyage together and dive deep into the world of oceanography! First, review the requirements listed below, and then we’ll navigate through each one, step-by-step. So, without further ado, let’s plunge into this fascinating adventure! 😉

What Are The Oceanography Merit Badge Requirements?

  1. Name four branches of oceanography. Describe at least five reasons why it is important for people to learn about the oceans.
  2. Define salinity, temperature, and density, and describe how these important properties of seawater are measured by the physical oceanographer. Discuss the circulation and currents of the ocean. Describe the effects of the oceans on weather and climate.
  3. Describe the characteristics of ocean waves. Point out the differences among the storm surge, tsunami, tidal wave, and tidal bore. Explain the difference between sea, swell, and surf. Explain how breakers are formed.
  4. Draw a cross-section of underwater topography. Show what is meant by: (a) Continental shelf, (b) Continental slope; and (c) Abyssal plain. Name and put on your drawing the following: seamount, guyot, rift valley, canyon, trench, and oceanic ridge. Compare the depths in the oceans with the heights of mountains on land.
  5. List the main salts, gases, and nutrients in sea water. Describe some important properties of water. Tell how the animals and plants of the ocean affect the chemical composition of seawater. Explain how differences in evaporation and precipitation affect the salt content of the oceans.
  6. Describe some of the biologically important properties of seawater. Define benthos, nekton, and plankton. Name some of the plants and animals that make up each of these groups. Describe the place and importance of phytoplankton in the oceanic food chain.
  7. Do ONE of the following:
    7a. Make a plankton net*. Tow the net by a dock, wade with it, hold it in a current, or tow it from a rowboat. Do this for about 20 minutes. Save the sample. Examine it under a microscope or high-power glass. Identify the three most common types of plankton in the sample.
    7b. Make a series of models (clay or plaster and wood) of a volcanic island. Show the growth of an atoll from a fringing reef through a barrier reef. Describe the Darwinian theory of coral reef formation.
    7c. Measure the water temperature at the surface, midwater, and bottom of a body of water four times daily for five consecutive days. You may measure depth with a rock tied to a line. Make a Secchi disk to measure turbidity (how much suspended sedimentation is in the water). Measure the air temperature. Note the cloud cover and roughness of the water. Show your findings (air and water temperature, turbidity) on a graph. Tell how the water temperature changes with air temperature.
    7d. Make a model showing the inshore sediment movement by littoral currents, tidal movement, and wave action. Include such formations as high and low waterlines, low-tide terrace, berm, and coastal cliffs. Show how offshore bars are built up and torn down.
    7e. Make a wave generator. Show reflection and refraction of waves. Show how groins, jetties, and breakwaters affect these patterns.
    7f. Track and monitor satellite images available on the Internet for a specific location for three weeks. Describe what you have learned to your counselor.
  8. Do ONE of the following:
    8a. Write a 500-word report on a book about oceanography approved by your counselor.
    8b. Visit one of the following: (1) an oceanographic research ship or (2) an oceanographic institute, marine laboratory, or marine aquarium. Write a 500-word report about your visit.
    8c. Explain to your troop in a five minute prepared speech “Why Oceanography Is Important” or describe “Career Opportunities in Oceanography.” (Before making your speech, show your speech outline to your counselor for approval.)
  9. Describe four methods that marine scientists use to investigate the ocean, underlying geology, and organisms living in the water.
1) Name four branches of oceanography. Describe at least five reasons why it is important for people to learn about the oceans.

Oceanography, often referred to as marine science, is the study of the world’s oceans. It is an interdisciplinary science where 4 key fields of study: physics, chemistry, geology, and biology come together. This makes it a complex and exciting field in which experts in different topics have to work together!

Did you know? The ocean covers approximately 70% of Earth’s surface and plays a critical role in supporting life on our planet! You can find a lot of foundational facts about the ocean on this website from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Oceanographers perform a wide range of tasks, including but not limited to:

  • Using models to predict changes in weather and climate, which enhances the ability to foresee risks, whether they be man-made or natural (such as hurricanes) or both.
  • Analyze how pollution affects the ocean’s water quality.
  • Work to preserve the quality of the ocean’s water in the face of rising human demands (such as those for fisheries, tourism, shipping, offshore oil & gas, offshore wind farms, etc.).

As you might imagine, this means oceanography is a really important science! And because it is the intersection of so many other sciences, there are different branches of oceanography. Oceanography is broadly divided into four main branches or disciplines:

The 4 Branches of Oceanography

Physical Oceanography

This type of oceanography focuses on the physical properties and processes of the ocean, like currents, wave dynamics, tides, and the interaction between the ocean and the atmosphere. Physical oceanographers aim to understand the dynamics of the marine environment and how it impacts the weather, climate, and coastal processes.

Here is a short video (1:51) of a physical oceanographer, Sarah Gille. In it, she explains what she does and how physical oceanography affects the climate and climate change:

Chemical Oceanography

Chemical oceanography is the study of the chemical composition of the ocean and the chemical interactions that occur within it. Chemical oceanographers study topics like nutrient cycles, salinity, dissolved gasses, the impacts of pollution, and even how the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide.

Here is a great video (1:56) with Lihini Aluwihare, a chemical oceanographer. She studies molecules in the ocean to understand carbon dioxide absorption: 

Biological Oceanography

This branch of oceanography studies the organisms that live in the ocean and how they interact with the ecosystem. This can range from microscopic phytoplankton and zooplankton all the way up to massive whales!

Biological oceanographers study the life cycles, distributions, and behaviors of these organisms to understand how they interact with their environment. This branch also extends to the more traditional marine biology focus on fish and marine mammals. 

This short video (1:51) follows biological oceanographer Jeff Bowman as he describes what he does to understand how ocean organisms interact with the environment:

Geological Oceanography

Geological oceanography deals with the study of the structure, features, and processes of the ocean floor. Geological oceanographers examine topics like plate tectonics, the formation of seafloor features (like underwater volcanoes, trenches, and mid-ocean ridges), and marine sediments.

This last short video (1:51) follows geologist Hane Willenbring, who uses geology to understand how the Earth changes over time due to weather, and how these changes affect the Earth:

As you can see, there is a lot that goes into oceanography! It is a very diverse field with so much left to discover. That means a lot of opportunities to learn…and also a lot of things to remember! Here is a handy chart that summarizes the different branches of oceanography:

Physical OceanographyStudies properties (temperature, density, etc.) and movement (waves, currents, and tides) of seawater and the interaction between the ocean and the atmosphere.
Chemical OceanographyExamines the composition of seawater and the biogeochemical cycles. 
Biological OceanographyFocuses on the biological organisms in the ocean, including life cycles and food production.
Geological OceanographyInvestigates the structure, features, and evolution of ocean basins and the history of Earth.

5 Reasons Why It’s Important To Learn About the Oceans

It’s a lot more exciting to explore a topic when you know why it matters. Here are five reasons (among many) why people must learn about the oceans:

  1. Climate Regulation. The oceans act as the planet’s primary thermostat by absorbing and distributing heat around the globe. They also absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide, which influences our climates. As a result, understanding the oceans can help us better predict and address climate change!
  2. Biodiversity. The oceans are home to a vast diversity of life, much of which remains undiscovered! Many marine species play an important role in food chains and ecosystems both in and out of the water. Additionally, understanding marine biodiversity can lead to medical discoveries and other benefits. 
  3. Economic Value. Many global economies depend heavily on the oceans. Fisheries, tourism, and transportation are industries that rely on the health and functionality of the oceans. Sustainable management of these resources requires knowledge and understanding of marine environments.
  4. Natural Barriers. Natural barriers such as coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses protect against storm surges and tsunamis. They also provide habitats for marine species and provide an ecosystem balance. This means it’s really important to preserve them — for us and for the fishies! 😀
  5. Environmental Health. The oceans play an important role in the environmental health of the planet. They are a primary source of oxygen and have an important role in nutrient cycling. Additionally, pollution poses a huge threat to the health of human and marine life, and we need to learn how to reduce it!

To learn more about how the oceans produce much of the oxygen we breathe, head to this page from the NOAA Ocean Exploration website!

2) Define salinity, temperature, and density, and describe how these important properties of seawater are measured by the physical oceanographer. Discuss the circulation and currents of the ocean. Describe the effects of the oceans on weather and climate.

As established above, a physical oceanographer measures the properties of the ocean. They often seek to understand how the atmosphere and the ocean interact. Can you think of some properties a physical oceanographer might want to measure? 

There are a lot of answers you could have given — maybe you said how salty the ocean is (salinity), how warm or cold the waters are, the amount of pollution, or the amount of wildlife. Or maybe you gave an entirely different answer! There are so many options, but there are three properties regularly measured by physical oceanographers:

  • Salinity: Salinity refers to the concentration of dissolved salts in seawater. The salt in the ocean primarily consists of sodium and chloride ions (like table salt), but there are also other dissolved elements such as magnesium, sulfate, and calcium.
  • Temperature: Temperature measures how warm or cold something is. I bet you knew that one, though 😉
  • Density: Density measures the amount of matter in an object or substance in relation to its volume. For seawater, the density is influenced by salinity, temperature, and pressure at depth. Colder, saltier water is denser than warmer, less salty water.

How Physical Oceanographers Take These Measurements

Now that we understand what salinity, temperature, and density are, we need to understand how physical oceanographers measure these properties!

  • Salinity: Traditionally, salinity is measured by titrating seawater with a silver nitrate solution. It’s commonly measured with electronic conductivity meters or CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) instruments, which measure salinity based on the electrical conductivity of seawater.
  • Temperature: Oceanographers use thermometers and, more commonly, CTD probes to measure the water temperature at different depths.
  • Density: Density is typically calculated using measurements of temperature, salinity, and pressure (depth). Accurate values of these three parameters allow oceanographers to determine seawater density using established equations.

Ocean Circulation and Currents

Ocean circulation is driven by a combination of wind-driven surface currents, tides, and density differences. Surface currents, like the Gulf Stream or the California Current, are primarily driven by the wind and Earth’s rotation. Deep-water circulation, on the other hand, results from differences in seawater density.

Did you know? Thermohaline circulation is a deep-ocean circulation driven by differences in temperature and salinity: colder, saltier water sinks in polar regions, and warmer water rises at the equator, creating a global circulation pattern. It takes about 500 years for the thermohaline circulation to turn over the ocean’s waters and make one complete trip around Earth. Pretty cool, right?

Types of Ocean Currents and Their Effects on Weather and Climate

Surface Currents

  • These currents occur in the uppermost part of the ocean, usually up to depths of about 400 meters. They comprise about 10% of all the water in the ocean. Surface currents are primarily driven by winds.
  • Examples of surface currents include the Gulf Stream in the North Atlantic, the California Current in the Pacific, and the Agulhas Current in the Indian Ocean.

Deep Ocean Currents

  • These currents move water in the deeper parts of the oceans and are driven by density differences caused by variations in temperature (thermo) and salinity (haline), hence the name thermohaline circulation!
  • They form a significant part of the “global conveyor belt,” a system of interconnected currents that transport water around the world.

Tidal Currents

  • Tidal currents are caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun on the Earth’s waters. Tidal currents change direction as tides flood (move inland) and ebb (move seaward)!

Boundary Currents

  • These currents flow parallel to continental margins and can be either western boundary currents (warm, deep, and narrow, like the Gulf Stream) or eastern boundary currents (cold, shallow, and broad, like the California Current).

Upwelling and Downwelling Currents

  • Upwelling occurs when deeper, colder, and nutrient-rich water rises to the surface, typically due to winds pushing surface waters offshore. This is vital for productivity in various marine ecosystems.
  • Downwelling is the opposite, where surface water is pushed downward, often due to converging currents or cooling at the surface.

Turbidity Currents

  • These are underwater currents of dense, sediment-laden water. They are often triggered by events like landslides or earthquakes and can move rapidly down continental slopes.

Rip Currents

  • These are strong, localized currents flowing seaward from the shore. They can be dangerous for swimmers, as they can pull them out to deeper water quickly!

As you can see, there are a lot of different current types. Here is a nice cheat sheet so you can sea and remember the different current types more easily 😛:

Current TypeCharacteristics
SurfaceOccurs up to depths of about 400 meters, driven by winds.
Deep oceanCurrent flows vertically, responsible for the global transport of heat and nutrients, driven by density.
Tidal Caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun on the Earth’s waters.
Boundary Flow parallel to continental margins, can be warm, deep, and narrow or cold, shallow, and broad.
Upwelling and downwelling Upwelling: deeper, colder, and nutrient-rich water rises to the surface, Downwelling: surface water is pushed downward, often due to converging currents.
Turbidity Underwater currents of dense, sediment-laden water.
Rip Strong, localized currents flowing seaward from the shore.

Effects of the Oceans on Weather and Climate

As we mentioned above, the ocean interacts with our weather and climate in a variety of ways. Understanding the ocean can help us understand both day-to-day weather events and the large, complex process of climate change. You can’t study climate change without studying the ocean!

  • Heat Distribution: Oceans store heat and transport it between the equator and poles, regulating global temperatures.
  • Weather Patterns: Warm ocean waters can fuel tropical cyclones. Additionally, phenomena like El Niño, where changes in ocean temperatures and currents in the Pacific influence weather worldwide, show the ocean’s role in shaping atmospheric conditions.
  • Humidity and Precipitation: Oceans are the primary source of evaporation, leading to humidity in the air. This moisture is transported by winds and can lead to precipitation inland.
  • Climate Regulation: The ocean absorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide, acting as a buffer against rapid climate change. However, this absorption also leads to ocean acidification.
3) Describe the characteristics of ocean waves. Point out the differences among the storm surge, tsunami, tidal wave, and tidal bore. Explain the difference between sea, swell, and surf. Explain how breakers are formed.

What did one ocean say to the other ocean? 
Nothing, it just waved! 😛

All jokes aside, most people think of waves when they think of the ocean. Maybe you picture the soft white foam of the waves gently washing onto the beach, or perhaps the towering waves that surfers ride through like a tunnel. But did you know that there are actual, measurable characteristics of waves that oceanographers take?

Characteristics of Ocean Waves

  1. Wave Height. This is the vertical distance between the crest (top) of the wave and the trough (bottom). It indicates the energy level of the wave. Larger wave heights generally suggest more energetic wave conditions.
  1. Wavelength. This is the horizontal distance between two successive crests or two successive troughs. It can vary greatly, from a few centimeters to hundreds of kilometers (as in the case of tsunamis).
  1. Wave Period. This refers to the time it takes for two successive wave crests to pass a fixed point. Short-period waves (e.g., 5 seconds) are usually choppy and less powerful, while long-period waves (e.g., 15 seconds or more) carry more energy and can be more powerful when they break on the shoreline.
  1. Wave Frequency. This is the number of waves passing a point in a given time. It’s the inverse of the wave period.
  1. Wave Speed (or Celerity). This is the speed at which the waveform moves across the water. It’s calculated by dividing the wavelength by the wave period.
  1. Wave Steepness. This is the ratio of wave height to wavelength. It gives an idea of the wave’s stability. When the steepness becomes too great, the wave may break.
  1. Wave Direction. This is the direction from which the wave is coming.
  1. Wave Amplitude. This is half of the wave height and is a measure of the wave’s displacement from its equilibrium or rest position.

As you can see, there are a lot of characteristics an oceanographer can measure about a wave. Here is a chart that summarizes them: 

Wave CharacteristicDefinition
Height Vertical distance between the crest (top) of the wave and the trough (bottom).
Length Horizontal distance between two successive crests or two successive troughs.
Period Time for two successive wave crests to pass a fixed point. Short period: 5 seconds; long period: 15 seconds or more.
Frequency Number of waves passing a point in a given time.
Speed Speed at which the wave form moves across the water. 
Steepness Ratio of wave height to wavelength.
Direction Direction from which wave is coming.
Amplitude Measure of the wave’s displacement from its equilibrium or rest position.

The Differences Between a Storm Surge, Tsunami, Tidal Wave, and Tidal Bore.

The ocean plays an important part in the weather. Surely, you’ve heard of tsunamis or tropical stores. But did you know there are other types of weather events that occur within the ocean? This includes storm surges, tsunamis, tidal waves, and tidal bore.

Storm Surge

  • Origin: Caused by strong winds from a storm (especially hurricanes or cyclones) and a drop in atmospheric pressure.
  • Characteristics: As the storm approaches shallow coastal areas, the force of the wind pushes the seawater toward the shore, causing a rise in water levels above the normal tide levels. This can cause extensive flooding, especially when combined with high tides.
  • Duration: Generally lasts as long as the storm persists.


  • Origin: Generated by large-scale disturbances of the ocean floor, such as undersea earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or landslides.
  • Characteristics: Tsunamis are not typical “waves.” Instead, they are more like a rapidly rising tide with a massive volume of water behind them. They travel across the open ocean at high speeds and have long wavelengths, often making them barely noticeable in deep waters. However, as they approach shallow coastal waters, they can grow in height dramatically.
  • Duration: Multiple waves can arrive minutes to hours apart, with the first wave not always being the largest.

Tidal Wave

  • Origin: “Tidal wave” is often used interchangeably with “tsunami,” but this isn’t quite right. Tidal waves are waves created by the gravitational forces of the sun or moon, and cause changes in the level of water bodies.
  • Characteristics: The term is a bit of a misnomer because the phenomenon doesn’t always have a direct relation to tides. Instead, the name was given due to the wave’s resemblance to a rising tide.
  • Duration: Varies depending on the specific cause and circumstances.

Tidal Bore

  • Origin: Occurs in rivers or narrow bays when the incoming tide forms a wave (or waves) that travel up a river or narrow bay against the current.
  • Characteristics: It’s essentially a sudden and strong tidal current in some river estuaries. Tidal bores can be just a single breaking wave or a series of waves.
  • Duration: The phenomenon lasts for a short time and occurs periodically with each tide in places where it’s observed.

Here is a chart to help you study the differences between these weather events:

Storm surgeTsunamiTidal waveTidal bore
Origin Strong winds from a storm (especially hurricanes or cyclones).Large-scale disturbances of the ocean floor, such as undersea earthquakes, landslides, etc.Gravitational forces of the sun/moon, and cause changes in the level of water bodies.Occurs when the incoming tide forms waves that travel up river or narrow bay against the current.
Duration Lasts as long as the storm persists.Minutes to hours apart.Depends on  cause and circumstancesShort time and occurs periodically

Difference Between Sea, Swell, and Surf

Sea, swell, and surf are terms commonly used in oceanography and by those who frequent the coasts, like surfers! They each describe different aspects or conditions of waves:


  • In the context of wave conditions, the term “sea” refers to the state of the ocean, especially in terms of the wind-generated waves that are being produced locally. When you hear phrases like “rough seas” or “calm seas,” it’s referring to the local wave conditions.
  • Characteristics: Sea waves are typically choppier and less organized than swell waves. They are generated by the local wind and vary in size depending on the wind’s strength and duration.


  • Swell refers to sets of waves that are no longer generated by the local wind. These are waves that have traveled away from their generating area, often over vast distances. Swells are typically more regular and organized than sea waves.
  • Characteristics: Swells can be described by their direction, height, period, and wavelength. They are smoother and more regular than the choppy waves in a “sea” condition. As swells move away from their generating area, they sort themselves out into more uniform sets of waves, gaining a more regular and rhythmic appearance.


  • Surf refers to the zone where waves are breaking as they approach the shore. Of course, this word can also mean the activity of riding these waves, which can be done with surfboards, bodyboards, etc.!
  • Characteristics: When swells (or sometimes sea waves) approach the coastline and encounter shallow water, they increase in height and ultimately break, forming the surf zone. The nature of the surf — whether the waves break gently or with great power — depends on the wave’s characteristics and the slope of the seafloor.

Keep in mind: while “sea” and “swell” describe different types of wave conditions in the ocean, “surf” pertains specifically to the breaking waves at the shoreline and the activity associated with them.

Definition Wind-generated waves that are being produced locally. A sea is a large body of salty water. Group of waves that travel across the ocean and are created by wind blowing on the back of the waves.Swell of the sea that breaks upon the shore.
Characteristics Choppier and less organized than swell waves. Smoother and more regular than the choppy waves in sea condition.Powerful, crashing waves.

I know, I know, I’m throwing a lot of definitions at you here. This short video (1:30) is an excellent way to review the difference between a wave and swell: 

Formation of Breakers

Finally, the last bit of information from requirement three: how breakers form. The formation of breakers involves the interaction between traveling ocean waves and the seafloor as the waves approach the shore. Here’s a step-by-step explanation of how breakers are formed:

  1. Wave Propagation: As waves travel from deeper waters toward the shore, the part of the wave closest to the seafloor experiences frictional drag due to the increasing shallowness.
  1. Wave Speed Reduction: This friction causes the base of the wave to slow down, while the top portion of the wave continues at a relatively faster speed.
  1. Wave Height Increase: As the base of the wave slows down and the top part keeps moving forward, the wave’s height (or amplitude) increases. This phenomenon is called “wave shoaling.”
  1. Wave Steepening: Due to the difference in speed between the top and bottom of the wave and the increasing wave height, the wave becomes steeper.
  1. Wave Breaking: Eventually, the wave becomes too steep to support its own weight. At this point, the crest of the wave topples forward, causing the wave to “break.”

I highly recommend watching this short video (3:00) that explains how waves are formed:

4) Draw a cross-section of underwater topography. Show what is meant by: (a) Continental shelf, (b) Continental slope; and (c) Abyssal plain. Name and put on your drawing the following: seamount, guyot, rift valley, canyon, trench, and oceanic ridge. Compare the depths in the oceans with the heights of mountains on land.

Most of us can picture a beach, waves breaking, or even tidepools filled with little critters. But what does it look like under the sea? Just like dry land, the sea floor has geographical features, like mountains, valleys, and canyons. Here are some terms to know about underwater topography:

Continental Shelf

  • The continental shelf is a relatively shallow and submerged extension of a continent. It stretches from the coastline of a continent to a drop-off point called the shelf break. Beyond this point there is a steeper descent into the deep ocean, called the continental slope.
  • The continental shelf is characterized by a relatively shallow depth typically up to 200 meters. Due to its proximity to sunlight, which allows photosynthesis, the continental shelf contains some of the richest parts of the ocean in terms of marine life. 

Continental Slope

  • The continental slope is where there is a sharp decline in depth leading from the continental shelf to the deep sea floor or abyssal plain. It can be thought of as the  “edge” of the continent underwater and is much steeper than the shelf.
  • The continental slope often contains canyons and is a transition zone from the shallow coastal waters to the deep sea.

Abyssal Plain

  • The abyssal plain is a vast, flat, and almost featureless part of the deep-sea floor, typically found at depths between about 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) and 6,000 meters (20,000 feet). It is among the flattest, smoothest regions on Earth, formed by the deposition of fine-grained sediments.
  • These plains are often interrupted by features like seamounts (underwater mountains) and deep-sea trenches.

Understanding the differences between these parts of the ocean is important, and it’s easier to learn through a visual aid. Here is a short video (3:19) that can help you understand ocean topography: 

Here are important timestamps for the video: 

  • 0:19 — continental shelf/diagram
  • 0:55 — abyssal plain
  • 2:50 — summary

NOTE: This video shows other ocean floor features that are not discussed in this guide. I always encourage you to learn as much as possible 🙂 but don’t freak out if you see something that’s not in the guide. Similarly, it doesn’t discuss the continental slope, but if you skip to the diagram at either 0:19 or 2:50, you will see it labeled and pictured. 

Comparing the Depth of the Oceans With the Heights of Mountains on Land.

Here’s a fun one! Let’s compare some of the most significant depths in the oceans with the towering heights of mountains on land:

Greatest Ocean Depth

The Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean is the deepest point in the world’s oceans. The deepest part of this trench, called the Challenger Deep, is estimated to be about 10,984 meters (36,037 feet) deep! Here is a great, interesting video (10:40) I recommend: 

Tallest Mountain Above Sea Level

Mount Everest, part of the Himalayan range in Asia, rises 8,848.86 meters (29,031.7 feet) above sea level. It’s the highest point on Earth when measured from sea level. At its deepest point, the Mariana Trench is deeper than Mount Everest is tall!

Check out this quick, fascinating video (0:58) to learn about the origins of the Earth’s tallest mountain!

Tallest Mountain from Base to Peak

If we measure from base to peak, then Mauna Kea in Hawaii is the tallest mountain. While its height above sea level is only 4,207.3 meters (13,803 feet), when measured from its base on the ocean floor, it’s over 10,000 meters (about 33,000 feet) tall!

Here is a great video (1:20) about this fascinating mountain:

Comparative Perspective

The Challenger Deep’s depth exceeds the height of Mount Everest by about 2,136 meters (7,005 feet). This means if we were to place Mount Everest into the Mariana Trench, its peak would still be submerged by over two kilometers of water!

The Ocean Is Deep!

The average depth of the world’s oceans is about 3,688 meters (12,100 feet). In comparison, the average elevation of land above sea level is roughly 840 meters (2,760 feet).

There are many mountain ranges, like the Andes, the Rockies, the Alps, and the Himalayas, with peaks exceeding 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). However, vast expanses of the ocean floor, known as abyssal plains, are at depths between 3,000 and 6,000 meters (9,843 to 19,685 feet).

Congrats on Finishing Part 1 of The Oceanography Merit Badge!

Great work! We’re now halfway done with earning the Oceanography merit badge. In the next section, we’ll be covering the compositions of our ocean and careers in oceanography, along with some other fun topics. For now though, remember what you learned here to complete your merit badge worksheet and sign off with your counselor! 😀

Once you’re ready to continue on to part 2 of the Oceanography merit badge click here!
(Part 2 is in progress, subscribe to my newsletter for updates)

Also, if you’re interested in the difficulty rankings for every Eagle-required merit badge, you can check out my full guide here! PS: The article also links to my other ultimate badge guides that’ll help you complete your merit badge worksheets.


I'm constantly writing new content because I believe in Scouts like you! Thanks so much for reading, and for making our world a better place. Until next time, I'm wishing you all the best on your journey to Eagle and beyond!

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