At 165,250,000 square kilometers (63,800,000 square miles) in the area (as defined with a southern Antarctic border), this largest division of the World Ocean
—and, in turn, the hydrosphere
—covers about 46% of Earth's water surface and about 32% of its total surface area, making it larger than all of Earth's land area combined (148,000,000 square kilometers).
The centers of both the Water Hemisphere
and the Western Hemisphere
are in the Pacific Ocean. Ocean circulation (caused by the Coriolis effect
) subdivides it
into two largely independent volumes of water, which meet at the equator
: the North(ern) Pacific Ocean
and South(ern) Pacific Ocean
. The Galápagos
and Gilbert Islands
, while straddling the equator, are deemed wholly within the South Pacific.
Its mean depth is 4,000 meters (13,000 feet).Challenger Deep
in the Mariana Trench
, located in the western north Pacific, is the deepest point in the world, reaching a depth of 10,928 meters (35,853 feet).
The Pacific also contains the deepest point in the Southern Hemisphere
, the Horizon Deep
in the Tonga Trench
, at 10,823 meters (35,509 feet).
The third deepest point on Earth, the Sirena Deep
, is also located in the Mariana Trench.
Though the peoples of Asia and Oceania have traveled the Pacific Ocean since prehistoric times, the eastern Pacific was first sighted by Europeans in the early 16th century when Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa
crossed the Isthmus of Panama
in 1513 and discovered the great "Southern Sea" which he named Mar del Sur
(in Spanish). The ocean's current name was coined by Portuguese
explorer Ferdinand Magellan
during the Spanish circumnavigation
of the world in 1521, as he encountered favorable winds on reaching the ocean. He called it Mar Pacífico
, which in both Portuguese
means "peaceful sea".
Biggest seas in Pacific Ocean
- Australasian Mediterranean Sea – 9.080 million km2
- Philippine Sea - 5.695 million km2
- Coral Sea – 4.791 million km2
- South China Sea – 3.5 million km2
- Tasman Sea – 2.3 million km2
- Bering Sea – 2 million km2
- Sea of Okhotsk – 1.583 million km2
- Gulf of Alaska – 1.533 million km2
- East China Sea – 1.249 million km2
- Mar de Grau – 1.14 million km2
- Sea of Japan – 978,000 km2
- Solomon Sea – 720,000 km2
- Banda Sea – 695,000 km2
- Arafura Sea – 650,000 km2
- Timor Sea – 610,000 km2
- Yellow Sea – 380,000 km2
- Java Sea – 320,000 km2
- Gulf of Thailand – 320,000 km2
- Gulf of Carpentaria – 300,000 km2
- Celebes Sea – 280,000 km2
- Sulu Sea – 260,000 km2
- Gulf of Anadyr – 200,000 km2
- Molucca Sea – 200,000 km2
- Gulf of California – 160,000 km2
- Gulf of Tonkin – 126,250 km2
- Halmahera Sea – 95,000 km2
- Bohai Sea – 78,000 km2
- Bali Sea – 45,000 km2
- Bismarck Sea – 40,000 km2
- Savu Sea - 35,000 km2
- Seto Inland Sea – 23,203 km2
- Seram Sea – 12,000 km2
Between the Asia-Pacific
region and the Americas
, more than 25,000 islands, large and small, rise above the surface of Pacific Ocean. These islands were the shells of active volcanoes, that have laid extinct for centuries. Just near the equator are a chain of atolls
, that have over time been formed by seamounts
Important human migrations occurred in the Pacific in prehistoric times. Modern humans first reached the western Pacific in the Paleolithic
, at around 60,000 to 70,000 years ago. Originating from an early coastal human migration out of Africa
, they reached the Philippines
, New Guinea
, and Australia
via the now sunken land bridges
. The descendants of these early migrations today are the highly diverse Australo-Melanesian
peoples (including Negritos
, and Native Australians
). These groups did not have boat or sailing technology and thus could only cross short distances of water. Their populations in maritime Southeast Asia
, coastal New Guinea
, and Island Melanesia
later intermarried with the incoming Austronesian
settlers, resulting in the modern peoples of Island Southeast Asia and Oceania.
Map showing the migration of the Austronesian peoples
, the first seaborne human migration in history (c.3000-1500 BCE)
At around 1300 to 1200 BCE, a branch of the Austronesian migrations known as the Lapita culture
reached the Bismarck Archipelago
, the Solomon Islands
, and New Caledonia
. From there, they colonized Tonga
by 900 to 800 BCE. Some also back-migrated northwards in 200 BCE to colonize the islands of eastern Micronesia
(including the Carolines
, the Marshall Islands
, and Kiribati
), mixing with earlier Austronesian migrations in the region. This remained the furthest extent of the Austronesian expansion into Polynesia
until around 700 CE when there was another surge of island colonization. They reached the Cook Islands
, and the Marquesas
by 700 CE; Hawaiʻi
by 900 CE; Rapa Nui
by 1000 CE; and finally New Zealand
by 1200 CE.
Austronesians may have also reached as far as the Americas
, although evidence for this remains inconclusive.
The eastern side of the ocean was discovered by Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa
in 1513 after his expedition crossed the Isthmus of Panama
and reached a new ocean.
He named it Mar del Sur
(literally, "Sea of the South" or "South Sea") because the ocean was to the south of the coast of the isthmus where he first observed the Pacific.
Map showing a large number of Spanish expeditions across the Pacific Ocean from the 16th to 18th centuries including the Manila galleon
route between Acapulco and Manila, the first transpacific
trade route in history.
In 1520, navigator Ferdinand Magellan
and his crew were the first to cross the Pacific in recorded history. They were part of a Spanish expedition
to the Spice Islands
that would eventually result in the first world circumnavigation
. Magellan called the ocean Pacífico
(or "Pacific" meaning, "peaceful") because, after sailing through the stormy seas off Cape Horn
, the expedition found calm waters. The ocean was often called the Sea of Magellan
in his honor until the eighteenth century.
Magellan stopped at one uninhabited Pacific island before stopping at Guam
in March 1521.
Although Magellan himself died in the Philippines
in 1521, Spanish navigator Juan Sebastián Elcano
led the remains of the expedition back to Spain across the Indian Ocean
and round the Cape of Good Hope
, completing the first world circumnavigation in 1522.
Sailing around and east of the Moluccas, between 1525 and 1527, Portuguese expeditions discovered the Caroline Islands
the Aru Islands
and Papua New Guinea
In 1542–43 the Portuguese also reached Japan
In 1564, five Spanish ships carrying 379 explorers crossed the ocean from Mexico led by Miguel López de Legazpi
, and sailed to the Philippines
and Mariana Islands
For the remainder of the 16th century, Spanish influence was paramount, with ships sailing from Mexico
across the Pacific Ocean to the Philippines via Guam
, and establishing the Spanish East Indies
. The Manila galleons
operated for two and a half centuries, linking Manila
, in one of the longest trade routes in history. Spanish expeditions also discovered Tuvalu
, the Marquesas
, the Cook Islands
, the Solomon Islands
, and the Admiralty Islands
in the South Pacific.
, the Waldseemüller map
dated 1507, from a time when the nature of the Americas was ambiguous, particularly North America, as a possible part of Asia, was the first map to show the Americas separating two distinct oceans. South America was generally considered a "new world" and shows the name "America" for the first time, after Amerigo Vespucci
Later, in the quest for Terra Australis
("the [great] Southern Land"), Spanish explorations in the 17th century, such as the expedition led by the Portuguese navigator Pedro Fernandes de Queirós
, discovered the Pitcairn
archipelagos, and sailed the Torres Strait
and New Guinea, named after navigator Luís Vaz de Torres
. Dutch explorers, sailing around southern Africa, also engaged in discovery and trade; Willem Janszoon
, made the first completely documented European landing in Australia (1606), in Cape York Peninsula
and Abel Janszoon Tasman
circumnavigated and landed on parts of the Australian
continental coast and discovered Tasmania
and New Zealand
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Spain considered the Pacific Ocean a mare clausum
—a sea closed to other naval powers. As the only known entrance from the Atlantic, the Strait of Magellan
was at times patrolled by fleets sent to prevent entrance of non-Spanish ships. On the western side of the Pacific Ocean the Dutch threatened the Spanish Philippines
The 18th century marked the beginning of major exploration by the Russians in Alaska
and the Aleutian Islands
, such as the First Kamchatka expedition
and the Great Northern Expedition
, led by the Danish Russian navy officer Vitus Bering
. Spain also sent expeditions to the Pacific Northwest
, reaching Vancouver Island
in southern Canada, and Alaska. The French explored and settled Polynesia
, and the British made three voyages with James Cook
to the South Pacific and Australia
, and the North American Pacific Northwest
. In 1768, Pierre-Antoine Véron
, a young astronomer
accompanying Louis Antoine de Bougainville
on his voyage of exploration, established the width of the Pacific with precision for the first time in history.
One of the earliest voyages of scientific exploration was organized by Spain in the Malaspina Expedition
of 1789–1794. It sailed vast areas of the Pacific, from Cape Horn to Alaska, Guam and the Philippines, New Zealand, Australia, and the South Pacific.
Made in 1529, the Diogo Ribeiro
map was the first to show the Pacific at about its proper size
Map of the Pacific Ocean during European Exploration, circa 1754.
Map of the Pacific Ocean during European Exploration, circa 1702–1707
during the 19th century resulted in the occupation of much of Oceania by European powers, and later Japan and 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
and the German Gazelle
In Oceania, France obtained a leading position as imperial power after making Tahiti
and New Caledonia
protectorates in 1842 and 1853, respectively.
After navy visits to Easter Island
in 1875 and 1887, Chilean navy officer Policarpo Toro
negotiated the incorporation of the island into Chile with native Rapanui
in 1888. By occupying Easter Island, Chile joined the imperial nations.(p53)
By 1900 nearly all Pacific islands were in control of Britain, France, United States, Germany, Japan, and Chile.
Although the United States gained control of Guam
and the Philippines from Spain in 1898,
Japan controlled most of the western Pacific by 1914 and occupied many other islands during the Pacific War
; however, by the end of that war, Japan was defeated and the U.S. Pacific Fleet
was the virtual master of the ocean. The Japanese-ruled Northern Mariana Islands
came under the control of the United States.
Since the end of World War II, many former colonies in the Pacific have become independent states
The Pacific separates Asia and Australia from the Americas. It may be further subdivided by the equator into northern (North Pacific) and southern (South Pacific) portions. It extends from the Antarctic
region in the South to the Arctic
in the north.
The Pacific Ocean encompasses approximately one-third of the Earth's surface, having an area of 165,200,000 km2
(63,800,000 sq mi)— larger than Earth's entire landmass combined, 150,000,000 km2
(58,000,000 sq mi).
Extending approximately 15,500 km (9,600 mi) from the Bering Sea
in the Arctic
to the northern extent of the circumpolar Southern Ocean
(older definitions extend it to Antarctica
's Ross Sea
), the Pacific reaches its greatest east–west width at about 5°N latitude
, where it stretches approximately 19,800 km (12,300 mi) from Indonesia to the coast of Colombia
—halfway around the world, and more than five times the diameter of the Moon.
The lowest known point on Earth—the Mariana Trench
—lies 10,911 m (35,797 ft
; 5,966 fathoms
) below sea level. Its average depth is 4,280 m (14,040 ft; 2,340 fathoms), putting the total water volume at roughly 710,000,000 km3
(170,000,000 cu mi).
Due to the effects of plate tectonics
, the Pacific Ocean is currently shrinking by roughly 2.5 cm (1 in) per year on three sides, roughly averaging 0.52 km2
(0.20 sq mi) a year. By contrast, the Atlantic Ocean
is increasing in size.
Along the Pacific Ocean's irregular western margins lie many seas, the largest of which are the Celebes Sea
, Coral Sea
, East China Sea
(East Sea), Philippine Sea
, Sea of Japan
, South China Sea
(South Sea), Sulu Sea
, Tasman Sea
, and Yellow Sea
(West Sea of Korea). The Indonesian Seaway
(including the Strait of Malacca
and Torres Strait
) joins the Pacific and the Indian Ocean
to the west, and Drake Passage
and the Strait of Magellan
link the Pacific with the Atlantic Ocean
on the east. To the north, the Bering Strait
connects the Pacific with the Arctic Ocean
The Martin Waldseemüller
map of 1507 was the first to show the Americas separating two distinct oceans.
Later, the Diogo Ribeiro
map of 1529 was the first to show the Pacific at about its proper size.
Bordering countries and territories
The island geography of the Pacific Ocean Basin
Regions, island nations and territories of Oceania
Landmasses and islands
The largest area, Polynesia
, stretching from Hawaii
in the north to New Zealand
in the south, also encompasses Tuvalu
and the Kermadec Islands
to the west, the Cook Islands
, Society Islands
and Austral Islands
in the center, and the Marquesas Islands
, Mangareva Islands
, and Easter Island
to the east.
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. Some of 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 coral reefs
of the South Pacific 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
with chains of reef patches. 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
The volume of the Pacific Ocean, representing about 50.1 percent of the world's oceanic water, has been estimated at some 714 million cubic kilometers (171 million cubic miles).
Surface water temperatures in the Pacific can vary from −1.4 °C (29.5 °F), the freezing point of sea water, in the poleward areas to about 30 °C (86 °F) near the equator. Salinity
also varies latitudinally, reaching a maximum of 37 parts per thousand in the southeastern area. The water near the equator, which can have a salinity as low as 34 parts per thousand, is less salty than that found in the mid-latitudes because of abundant equatorial precipitation throughout the year. The lowest counts of less than 32 parts per thousand are found in the far north as less evaporation of seawater takes place in these frigid areas.
The motion 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 water moves northward as the Aleutian Current
, while the rest turns 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 South 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
Impact of El Niño and La Niña on North America
The climate patterns of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres generally mirror each other. The trade winds
in the southern and eastern Pacific are remarkably steady while conditions in the North Pacific are far more varied with, for example, cold winter temperatures on the east coast of Russia contrasting with the milder weather off British Columbia
during the winter months due to the preferred flow of ocean currents.
In the tropical and subtropical Pacific, the El Niño Southern Oscillation
(ENSO) affects weather conditions. To determine the phase of ENSO, the most recent three-month sea surface temperature average for the area approximately 3,000 km (1,900 mi) to the southeast of Hawaii
is computed, and if the region is more than 0.5 °C (0.9 °F) above or below normal for that period, then an El Niño
or La Niña
is considered in progress.
at global peak intensity on 12 October 1979
In the tropical western Pacific, the monsoon
and the related wet season
during the summer months contrast with dry winds in the winter which blow over the ocean from the Asian landmass.
Worldwide, tropical cyclone
activity peaks in late summer, when the difference between temperatures aloft and sea surface temperatures is the greatest; however, each particular basin has its own seasonal patterns. On a worldwide scale, May is the least active month, while September is the most active month. November is the only month in which all the tropical cyclone basins
The Pacific hosts the two most active tropical cyclone basins
, which are the northwestern Pacific and the eastern Pacific. Pacific hurricanes
form south of Mexico, sometimes striking the western Mexican coast and occasionally the southwestern United States between June and October, while typhoons
forming in the northwestern Pacific moving into southeast and east Asia from May to December. Tropical cyclones also form in the South Pacific basin
, where they occasionally impact island nations.
In the arctic, icing from October to May can present a hazard for shipping while persistent fog occurs from June to December.
A climatological low in the Gulf of Alaska keeps the southern coast wet and mild during the winter months. The Westerlies
and associated jet stream
within the Mid-Latitudes can be particularly strong, especially in the Southern Hemisphere, due to the temperature difference between the tropics and Antarctica,
which records the coldest temperature readings on the planet. In the Southern hemisphere, because of the stormy and cloudy conditions associated with extratropical cyclones
riding the jet stream, it is usual to refer to the Westerlies as the Roaring Forties, Furious Fifties and Shrieking Sixties according to the varying degrees of latitude.
The ocean was first mapped by Abraham Ortelius
; he called it Maris Pacifici following Ferdinand Magellan
's description of it as "a pacific sea" during his circumnavigation from 1519 to 1522. To Magellan, it seemed much more calm (pacific) than the Atlantic.
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 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 mostly bounded by subduction
zones. Only the Antarctic and Australian coasts have no nearby subduction zones.
The Pacific Ocean was born 750 million years ago at the breakup of Rodinia
, although it is generally called the Panthalassa
until the breakup of Pangea
, about 200 million years ago.
The oldest Pacific Ocean floor is only around 180 Ma
old, with older crust subducted by now.
The exploitation of the Pacific's mineral wealth is hampered by the ocean's great depths. In shallow waters of the continental shelves off the coasts of Australia and New Zealand, petroleum
and natural gas
are extracted, and pearls
are harvested along the coasts of Australia, Japan, Papua New Guinea
, Nicaragua, Panama, and the Philippines, although in sharply declining volume in some cases.
are an important economic asset in the Pacific. The shallower shoreline waters of the continents and the more temperate islands yield herring
, and tuna
, as well as shellfish
has become a serious problem in some areas. For example, catches in the rich fishing grounds of the Okhotsk Sea
off the Russian coast have been reduced by at least half since the 1990s as a result of overfishing.
Pacific Ocean currents have created 3 "islands" of debris.
The quantity of small plastic fragments floating in the north-east Pacific Ocean increased a hundredfold between 1972 and 2012.
The ever-growing Great Pacific garbage patch
between California and Japan is three times the size of France.
An estimated 80,000 metric tons of plastic inhabit the patch, totaling 1.8 trillion pieces.
is a generic term for the harmful entry into the ocean of chemicals or particles. The main culprits are those using the rivers for disposing of their waste.
The rivers then empty into the ocean, often also bringing chemicals used as fertilizers
in agriculture. The excess of oxygen-depleting chemicals in the water leads to hypoxia
and the creation of a dead zone
, also known as marine litter, is human-created waste that has ended up floating in a lake, sea, ocean, or waterway. Oceanic debris tends to accumulate at the center of gyres and coastlines, frequently washing aground where it is known as beach litter.
Major ports and harbors
This section needs expansion
. You can help by adding to it
. (December 2020)
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