Meteorology, Oceanography and the Bible

The Bible is not a science book, but it includes many fascinating scientific facts. Consider these four facts about meteorology and oceanography.

The Bible focuses on teaching us God’s plan for our lives and the best way to live. However, when we study the Bible, we also find plenty of scientific tidbits that can strengthen our faith in its authenticity.

Consider these Bible facts about the wind and sea, recorded long before they were common knowledge:

1. Air has weight.

Job 28:25: “To establish a weight for the wind.”

The Bible claims that wind or air has a measurable weight. Yet people have not always known this. Our bodies are so accustomed to atmospheric pressure that we don’t think of the air as “weighing us down.”

According to NOVA, the idea that air has physical properties such as weight was first proposed by Isaac Beeckman in 1618; even then he was staunchly opposed by his contemporaries.

However, over the next centuries, scientists confirmed that there is indeed a “weight of the wind.” A column of air stretching from sea level to the top of the atmosphere just one square inch in cross-section weighs about 14.7 pounds! (A similar column of air one square centimeter in cross-section has a mass of about 1.03 kilograms.)

That is, air is matter made up of individual bits (molecules) that each have mass and weight. The temperature and weights of these molecules control the density of an air mass. Its density, in turn, determines the pressure of the air mass and how it will interact with other air masses at weather fronts.

In other words, our modern understanding of meteorology is based on this central fact described long ago in the Bible!

2. Water can evaporate, condense, precipitate and collect in an endless cycle.

Several scriptures make clear that water continually circulates between earth’s surface and earth’s atmosphere. The water cycle remains a crucial model for many modern fields including meteorology, oceanography and geology.Job 36:27-28: “For He draws up drops of water, which distill as rain from the mist, which the clouds drop down and pour abundantly on man” (see also Job 26:8 and Ecclesiastes 1:7).

Several scriptures make clear that water continually circulates between earth’s surface and earth’s atmosphere. The water cycle remains a crucial model for many modern fields including meteorology, oceanography and geology.

3. Seawater follows currents in the ocean.

Psalm 8:8: “The fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas.”

The Bible indicates that there are “paths” in the ocean where the water follows a predictable course. Indeed, the interaction of numerous factors (including geography, temperature, salinity, prevailing winds and the Coriolis effect) creates currents with dramatic influence over regional transit, climates and marine life.

Yet these paths in the sea were not extensively studied until the mid-1800s, when Lt. Matthew Fontaine Maury of the U.S. Navy began scouring old sailors’ logs for information about wind and ocean movements. Maury’s study of the Bible (which he “constantly read and frequently quoted,” according to naval historian Capt. Miles DuVal) may have convinced him that he would find patterns, and find them, he did!

Describing the impact of Maury’s first “Wind and Current Chart” on navigation, DuVal wrote, “Previously the average passage from New York to San Francisco required 188 days but in 1851, the Flying Cloud … made this voyage in 89 days and 21 hours.” Studying the “paths of the seas” turned out to be a lucrative innovation!

4. The ocean floor has varied terrain.

2 Samuel 22:16: “Then the channels of the sea were seen” (see also Job 38:16 and Jonah 2:5-6).

The Bible describes “springs,” “mountains” and “channels” in the sea. Today, we know that the seafloor really has such features. Springlike hydrothermal vents form where tectonic plates pull apart. Seamounts develop over volcanically active areas. Abundant undersea channels range from deep trenches, where a denser tectonic plate is forced under a more buoyant plate, to what appear to be submerged riverbeds.

In fact, some of these channels still powerfully flow with their own currents of water carrying high concentrations of salt or sediment. The first such “undersea river” made the news in 2010, as reported in The Telegraph. The channels of many more have been discovered.

As Katia Moskvitch reported in February 2014 for New Scientist, “Drain all Earth’s oceans and you would find that underwater rivers have gouged a maze of conduits known as abyssal channels. The rivers that rush through them may look like terrestrial rivers, but they behave much more like avalanches, dust storms or the pyroclastic flows from a volcano.”

Today, locating these channels of the sea is a major occupation for both telecommunication companies (looking to avoid placing their cables near these destructive flows) and oil companies (looking to harvest oil and gas from long buried sediment). However, in biblical times, the landscape deep below the water’s surface was out of reach and unfathomable.

According to GEBCO, the international authority tasked with bathymetry (mapping the seafloor), a picture only began to emerge in the mid-1800s, when sailors started to record ocean depths along their course using weighted ropes. Knowledge of the seafloor increased rapidly when sonar was eventually invented.

The details recorded in the Bible anticipate modern discoveries by thousands of years.

For more about the science and the Bible, also see the articles in the section about “God and Science.”

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