Pacific Ocean"Pacific" redirects here. For other uses, see Pacific (disambiguation). Earth'soceans
The Pacific Ocean (from the Latin name Mare Pacificum, "peaceful sea", bestowed upon it by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan) is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to Antarctica in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia on the west and the Americas on the east. At 169.2 million square kilometers (65.3 million square miles) in area, this largest division of the World Ocean – and, in turn, the hydrosphere – covers about 46% of the Earth's water surface and about 32% of its total surface area, making it larger than all of the Earth's land area combined. The equator subdivides it into the North Pacific Ocean and South Pacific Ocean. The Mariana Trench in the western North Pacific is the deepest point in the Pacific and the world, reaching a depth of 10,911 metres (35,798 ft).
- 1 Overview
- 2 Water characteristics
- 3 Geology
- 4 Landmasses
- 5 History and economy
- 6 Unique and Unusual Characteristics
- 7 Environmental Issues
- 8 Major ports and harbours
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
OverviewSunset over the Pacific Ocean as seen from the International Space Station. Anvil tops of thunderclouds are also visible.
The ocean encompasses almost a third of the Earth's surface, having an area of 179.7 million square kilometres (69.4 million sq mi and 161 million cubic mi) —significantly larger than Earth's entire landmass, with room for another Africa to spare. Extending approximately 15,500 kilometres (9,600 mi) from the Bering Sea in the Arctic to the icy margins of Antarctica's Ross Sea in the south (although the Antarctic regions of the Pacific are sometimes described as part of the circumpolar Southern Ocean), the Pacific reaches its greatest east-west width at about 5°N latitude, where it stretches approximately 19,800 kilometres (12,300 mi) from Indonesia to the coast of Colombia and Peru - halfway across the world, and more than five times the diameter of the Moon. The western limit of the ocean is often placed at the Strait of Malacca. The lowest point on earth—the Mariana Trench—lies 10,911 meters (35,797 ft) below sea level. Its average depth is 4,280 metres (14,000 ft).
Along the Pacific Ocean's irregular western margins lie many seas, the largest of which are the Celebes Sea, Coral Sea, East China Sea, Philippine Sea, Sea of Japan, South China Sea, Sulu Sea, Tasman Sea, and Yellow Sea. The Strait of Malacca joins the Pacific and the Indian Oceans on the west, and the Strait of Magellan links the Pacific with the Atlantic Ocean on the east. To the north, the Bering Strait connects the Pacific with the Arctic Ocean.
As the Pacific straddles the ± 180° meridian, the West Pacific (or western Pacific, near Asia) is actually in the Eastern Hemisphere, while the East Pacific (or eastern Pacific, near the Americas) is actually in the Western Hemisphere.Storm in Pacifica, California
For most of Magellan's voyage from the Strait of Magellan to the Philippines, the explorer indeed found the ocean peaceful. However, the Pacific is not always peaceful. Many tropical cyclones (typhoons, the equivalent of Atlantic hurricanes), batter the islands of the Pacific. The lands around the Pacific rim are full of volcanoes and often affected by earthquakes. Tsunamis, caused by underwater earthquakes, have devastated many islands and destroyed entire towns.
Water temperatures in the Pacific vary from freezing in the poleward areas to about 30 °C (86 °F) near the equator. Salinity also varies latitudinally. The water near the equator is less salty than that found in the mid-latitudes because of abundant equatorial precipitation throughout the year. Poleward of the temperate latitudes salinity is also low, because little evaporation of seawater takes place in these frigid areas. The Atlantic Ocean is generally about 16 degrees F( 9 degrees C)warmer than the Pacific ocean for any given latitude.
The surface circulation of Pacific waters is generally clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere (the North Pacific Gyre) and counter-clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. The North Equatorial Current, driven westward along latitude 15°N by the trade winds, turns north near the Philippines to become the warm Japan or Kuroshio Current.
Turning eastward at about 45°N, the Kuroshio forks and some waters move northward as the Aleutian Current, while the rest turn southward to rejoin the North Equatorial Current. The Aleutian Current branches as it approaches North America and forms the base of a counter-clockwise circulation in the Bering Sea. Its southern arm becomes the chilled slow, south-flowing California Current.
The South Equatorial Current, flowing west along the equator, swings southward east of New Guinea, turns east at about 50°S, and joins the main westerly circulation of the Southern Pacific, which includes the Earth-circling Antarctic Circumpolar Current. As it approaches the Chilean coast, the South Equatorial Current divides; one branch flows around Cape Horn and the other turns north to form the Peru or Humboldt Current.
GeologyThe Pacific is ringed by many volcanoes and oceanic trenches
The andesite line is the most significant regional distinction in the Pacific. It separates the deeper, mafic igneous rock of the Central Pacific Basin from the partially submerged continental areas of felsic igneous rock on its margins. The andesite line follows the western edge of the islands off California and passes south of the Aleutian arc, along the eastern edge of the Kamchatka Peninsula, the Kuril Islands, Japan, the Mariana Islands, the Solomon Islands, and New Zealand's North Island. The dissimilarity continues northeastward along the western edge of the Andes Cordillera along South America to Mexico, returning then to the islands off California. Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, New Guinea, and New Zealand—all eastward extensions of the continental blocks of Asia, Australia and Zealandia—lie outside the Andesite Line.
Within the closed loop of the andesite line are most of the deep troughs, submerged volcanic mountains, and oceanic volcanic islands that characterize the Pacific basin. Here basaltic lavas gently flow out of rifts to build huge dome-shaped volcanic mountains whose eroded summits form island arcs, chains, and clusters. Outside the Andesite Line, volcanism is of the explosive type, and the Pacific Ring of Fire is the world's foremost belt of explosive volcanism. The Ring of Fire is named after the several hundred active volcanoes that sit above the various subduction zones.
The Pacific Ocean is the only ocean which is almost totally bounded by subduction zones. Only the Antarctic and Australian coasts have no nearby subduction zones.
LandmassesThe shore of the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco
The largest landmass entirely within the Pacific Ocean is the island of New Guinea— the second largest island in the world. Almost all of the smaller islands of the Pacific lie between 30°N and 30°S, extending from Southeast Asia to Easter Island; the rest of the Pacific Basin is almost entirely submerged.
The great triangle of Polynesia, connecting Hawaii, Easter Island, and New Zealand, encompasses the island arcs and clusters of the Cook Islands, Marquesas, Samoa, Society, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuamotu, Tuvalu and the Wallis and Futuna islands.The shoreline at Palm Beach, New South Wales
In the southwestern corner of the Pacific lie the islands of Melanesia, dominated by New Guinea. Other important island groups of Melanesia include the Bismarck Archipelago, Fiji, New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
Islands in the Pacific Ocean are of four basic types: continental islands, high islands, coral reefs, and uplifted coral platforms. Continental islands lie outside the Andesite Line and include New Guinea, the islands of New Zealand, and the Philippines. These islands are structurally associated with nearby continents. High islands are of volcanic origin, and many contain active volcanoes. Among these are Bougainville, Hawaii, and the Solomon Islands.
The third and fourth types of islands are both the result of coralline island building. Coral reefs are low-lying structures that have built up on basaltic lava flows under the ocean's surface. One of the most dramatic is the Great Barrier Reef off northeastern Australia. A second island type formed of coral is the uplifted coral platform, which is usually slightly larger than the low coral islands. Examples include Banaba (formerly Ocean Island) and Makatea in the Tuamotu group of French Polynesia.
History and economy
- Further information: Oceania
Important human migrations occurred in the Pacific in prehistoric times, most notably those of the Austronesians (specifically, the Polynesians), from the Asian edge of the ocean to Tahiti and then to Hawaii, New Zealand, and Easter Island.
The ocean was sighted by Europeans early in the 16th century, first by the Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa (1513), who crossed the Isthmus of Panama, and then by Ferdinand Magellan, who sailed the Pacific during his circumnavigation (1519-1522). In 1564, conquistadors crossed the ocean from Mexico led by Miguel López de Legazpi who sailed to the Philippines and Mariana Islands. For the remainder of the 16th century, Spanish influence was paramount, with ships sailing from Spain to the Philippines, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands; the Manila Galleons linked Manila and Acapulco.
During the 17th century, the Dutch, sailing around southern Africa, dominated discovery and trade; Abel Janszoon Tasman discovering Tasmania and New Zealand in 1642. The 18th century marked a burst of exploration by the Russians in Alaska and the Aleutian Islands, the French in Polynesia, and the British in the three voyages of James Cook (to the South Pacific and Australia, Hawaii, and the North American Pacific Northwest).
Growing imperialism during the 19th century resulted in the occupation of much of Oceania by Great Britain and France, followed by the United States. Significant contributions to oceanographic knowledge were made by the voyages of HMS Beagle in the 1830s, with Charles Darwin aboard; HMS Challenger during the 1870s; the USS Tuscarora (1873-76); and the German Gazelle (1874-76). Although the United States conquered the Philippines in 1898, Japan controlled the western Pacific by 1914 and occupied many other islands during World War II. By the end of the war, the U.S. Pacific Fleet was the virtual master of the ocean.