Facts About the World's Five Oceans

How Geographers Divide the Vast World Ocean

The oceans of the Earth are all connected and are truly one "World Ocean" which covers about 71 percent of the Earth's surface. The salt water which flows from one part of the ocean to another without hindrance makes up 97 percent of the planet's water supply.

Geographers, for many years, divided the world ocean into four parts: the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic Oceans. In addition to these oceans, they also described many other smaller bodies of salt water including seas, bays, and estuaries. It wasn't until 2000 that a fifth ocean was officially named: the Southern Ocean, which includes the waters around Antarctica.

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Pacific Ocean

Great barrier reef
Great Barrier Reef in the Pacific Ocean. Peter Adams / Getty Images

The Pacific Ocean is by far the world's largest ocean at 60,060,700 square miles (155,557,000 sq km). According to the CIA World Factbook, it covers 28% of the Earth and is equal in size to nearly all of the land area on the Earth. The Pacific Ocean is located between the Southern Ocean, Asia, and Australia in the Western Hemisphere. It has an average depth of 13,215 feet (4,028 meters) but its deepest point is the Challenger Deep within the Mariana Trench near Japan. This area is also the deepest point in the world at -35,840 feet (-10,924 meters). The Pacific Ocean is important to geography not only because of its size but also because it has been a major historical route of exploration and migration.

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Atlantic Ocean

Miami coast
Luis Castaneda Inc. / Getty Images

The Atlantic Ocean is the world's second-largest ocean with an area of 29,637,900 square miles (76,762,000 sq. km). It is located between Africa, Europe, the Southern Ocean in the Western Hemisphere. It includes the includes other water bodies such as the Baltic Sea, Black Sea, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, Mediterranean Sea and the North Sea. The average depth of the Atlantic Ocean is 12,880 feet (3,926 meters) and the deepest point is the Puerto Rico Trench at -28,231 feet (-8,605 meters). The Atlantic Ocean is important to the world's weather (as are all oceans) because strong Atlantic hurricanes often develop off the coast of Cape Verde, Africa and move toward the Caribbean Sea from August to November.

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Indian Ocean

Meeru Island, southwest of India, in the Indian Ocean
mgokalp / Getty Images

The Indian Ocean is the world's third-largest ocean and it has an area of 26,469,900 square miles (68,566,000 sq km). It is located between Africa, the Southern Ocean, Asia, and Australia. The Indian Ocean has an average depth of 13,002 feet (3,963 meters) and the Java Trench is its deepest point at -23,812 feet (-7,258 meters). The waters of the Indian Ocean also include water bodies such as the Andaman, Arabian, Flores, Java and Red Seas as well as the Bay of Bengal, Great Australian Bight, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Mozambique Channel and the Persian Gulf. The Indian Ocean is known for causing the monsoonal weather patterns that dominate much of southeast Asia and for having waters that have been historical chokepoints (narrow international waterways).

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Southern Ocean

McMurdo Station, Ross Island, Antarctica
Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Getty Images

The Southern Ocean is the world's newest and fourth-largest ocean. In the spring of 2000, the International Hydrographic Organization decided to delimit a fifth ocean. In doing so, boundaries were taken from the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The Southern Ocean extends from the coast of Antarctica to 60 degrees south latitude. It has a total area of 7,848,300 square miles (20,327,000 sq km) and an average depth ranging from 13,100 to 16,400 feet (4,000 to 5,000 meters). The deepest point in the Southern Ocean is unnamed but it is in the south end of the South Sandwich Trench and has a depth of -23,737 feet (-7,235 meters). The world's largest ocean current, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current moves east and is 13,049 miles (21,000 km) in length.

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Arctic Ocean

A Polar bear is seen on sea ice in Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Norway
Danita Delimont / Getty Images

The Arctic Ocean is the world's smallest with an area of 5,427,000 square miles (14,056,000 sq km). It extends between Europe, Asia and North America and most of its waters are north of the Arctic Circle. Its average depth is 3,953 feet (1,205 meters) and its deepest point is the Fram Basin at -15,305 feet (-4,665 meters). Throughout most of the year, much of the Arctic Ocean is covered by a drifting polar icepack that is an average of ten feet (three meters) thick. However, as the Earth's climate changes, the polar regions are warming and much of the icepack melts during the summer months. The Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route have been important areas of trade and exploration.