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For other uses see Ocean (disambiguation)
The world's oceans as seen from the South Pole
The world's oceans as seen from the South Pole

Ocean (from Okeanos, Greek for river, the ancient Greeks noticed that a strong current flowed off of Gibraltar, and assumed it was a great river; Greek ωκεανός) covers almost three quarters (71%) of the surface of the Earth, and nearly half of the world's marine waters are over 3000 m deep.

This global, interconnected body of salt water, called the World Ocean, is divided by the continents and archipelagos into the following four bodies, from the largest to the smallest: the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and the Arctic Ocean, and, according to some authorities such as International Hydrographic Organization(IHO), a fifth ocean, the Southern Ocean.

Some geographers and some governments but not the US, recognize the IHO as defining official water body names and boundaries. (The US authority is the United States Board on Geographic Names.) The IHO officially sanctioned the Southern Ocean name only in 2000, but its definition by a line of latitude (with IHO members widely disputing which line of latitude) has left its acceptance as a fifth ocean open to question. The National Geographic Society and some other leading geographers and cartographers continue to use "South Pacific", "South Atlantic", and "Indian" Ocean for the waters around Antarctica. A few Oceanographers recognize only four oceans also, treating the Arctic Ocean (or the Arctic Sea) as a part of the Atlantic Ocean.

Smaller regions of the oceans are called seas, gulfs, straits and other names.

Geologically, an ocean is an area of oceanic crust covered by water. Oceanic crust is the thin layer of solidified volcanic basalt that covers the Earth's mantle where there are no continents. From this point of view, there are three "oceans" today: the World Ocean, and the Black and Caspian Seas that were formed by the collision of Cimmeria with Laurasia. The Mediterranean Sea is very nearly its own "ocean", being connected to the World Ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar, and indeed several times over the last few million years movement of the African Continent has closed the strait off entirely, making the Mediterranean a fourth "ocean". (The Black Sea is connected to the Mediterranean through the Bosporus, but this is in effect a natural canal, cut through continental rock some 7000 years ago, rather than a piece of oceanic sea floor like the Strait of Gibraltar.)

The area of the World Ocean is 361 million km², its volume is 1370 million km³, and its average depth is 3790 m. Nearly half of the world's marine waters are over 3000 m deep. This does not include seas not connected to the World Ocean, such as the Caspian Sea.

The total mass of the hydrosphere is about 1.4 × 1021 kg, ca. 0.023 % of the Earth's total mass.

See sea water for a detailed discussion of ocean water composition, most notably its salinity.



Main article: Ocean Origins

The Oceans of the world most likely originated by comets striking the Earth.


Main article: Ocean exploration
Map of large underwater features. (1995, NOAA)
Map of large underwater features. (1995, NOAA)

Travel on the surface of the ocean through the use of boats dates back to prehistoric times, but only in modern times has extensive underwater travel become possible.

The deepest point in the ocean is the Mariana Trench located in the Pacific Ocean near the Northern Mariana Islands. It has a maximum depth of 10,923 m (35,838 ft) [1]. It was fully surveyed in 1951 by the British naval vessel, "Challenger II" which gave its name to the deepest part of the trench, the "Challenger Deep".

Much of the bottom of the world's oceans is unexplored and unmapped. A global image of many underwater features larger than 10 km was created in 1995 based on gravitational distortions of the nearby sea surface.


One of the most dramatic forms of weather occurs over the oceans: tropical cyclones (also called "typhoons" and "hurricanes" depending upon where the system forms). Ocean currents greatly affect Earth's climate by transferring warm or cold air and precipitation to coastal regions, where they may be carried inland by winds. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current encircles that continent, influencing the area's climate and connecting currents in several oceans.


The oceans are home to the majority of plant and animal life on Earth. These lifeforms include:


The oceans are essential to transportation: a huge portion of the world's goods are moved by ship between the world's seaports. Important ship canals include the Saint Lawrence Seaway, Panama Canal, and Suez Canal.

Ancient oceans

Continental drift has reconfigured the Earth's oceans, joining and splitting ancient oceans to form the current oceans. Ancient oceans include:

Extraterrestrial oceans

Earth is the only known planet with liquid water on its surface, and is certainly the only such in our own solar system. However, liquid water is thought to be present under the surface of several natural satellites, particularly the Galilean moons of Europa, and, with less certainty, its fellows Callisto and Ganymede. Other icy moons may have once had internal oceans that have now frozen, such as Triton. The planets Uranus and Neptune may also possess large oceans of liquid water under their thick atmospheres, though their internal structure is not well understood at this time.

There is currently much debate over whether Mars once had an ocean of water in its northern hemisphere, and over what happened to it if it did; recent findings by the Mars Exploration Rover mission indicate it had some long-term standing water in at least one location, but its extent is not known.

Liquid hydrocarbons are thought to be present on the surface of Titan, though it may be more accurate to describe them as "lakes" rather than an "ocean". The distribution of these liquid regions will hopefully be better known after the full analysis of data from the Huygens probe of the Cassini-Huygens space mission, which dropped onto Titan's surface in January 2005. Titan is also thought likely to have a subterranean water ocean under the mix of ice and hydrocarbons that forms its outer crust.

Oceans in film

  • In the movie Muppet Treasure Island, a non-specific ocean is featured, and referred to as the "Big Blue Wet Thing".

See also

External links

Look up Ocean on Wiktionary, the free dictionary

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