How many oceans are there, exactly? You may receive different answers depending on the source. For many countries and oceanographers, the answer will be four, based solely on the Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, and Indian.
Many countries and oceanography experts hesitate to recognize the Southern Ocean as an actual ocean.
The United States and numerous other countries conclude that there are five distinctly separate oceans on the planet. However, there is only one body of water. The Global Ocean covers 71% of the entire surface of the world.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) acknowledges that there is only one Global Ocean. Although it is considered one body of water, there are five distinct areas into which it is divided. These oceans each have their own unique names and environment.
According to the United States, there are five subdivided ocean basins, including the Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, Indian, and Southern, previously known as the Antarctic. These five oceans hold 97% of the water on the planet.
Various species of animals and plant life make their homes in our oceans. Each ocean has a unique ecosystem that determines the sea creatures that can live in each area.
Even with the extensive research focused on oceanic advancements, 80% of the Global Ocean remains unexplored.
The Arctic Ocean
The smallest of the five oceans, the Arctic Ocean covers over six million square miles, with a coastline reaching close to 30,000 miles. The Arctic Ocean has a maximum depth of 18,456 feet and is the shallowest of the five oceans.
The coldest of the five oceans, the Arctic faces freezing temperatures year-round, with most of the water covered in ice the entire year. The area experiences extended periods of darkness during the winter. In contrast, the summer months result in extended periods of daylight.
The neighbors of this ocean include the Barrow and the Prudhoe Bay in Alaska. The Arctic Ocean also connects with Canada, Iceland, Greenland, Norway, and Russia.
Flora in the Arctic Ocean is generally rare. However, there is a significant amount of phytoplankton found in the water. Only a small number of aquatic animals are present in the Arctic due to its freezing temperatures. The banded gunnel and Lion’s Mane jellyfish are two of the few that make their home in the ocean.
The Arctic is farther north than the other four oceans and its floor is home to natural gas and petroleum fields. Climate change has resulted in extreme warming trends in the Arctic. In the past few years alone, researchers have discovered a considerable decrease in ice cover.
The Atlantic Ocean
At over 52 million square miles, the Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the five oceans, with an average depth of 3646 miles. The deepest area of the water is the Milwaukee Deep in Puerto Rico. The trench has a depth of over five miles.
The Arctic Ocean surrounds the Atlantic to the north. The Southern Ocean lies to the south. The Indian Ocean extends southeast of the Atlantic Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean sits to the southwest.
The northern edge and southern edge experience a difference in climates due to its expansive size. The varying temperatures from the Atlantic also affect the temperatures of land in the nearby areas.
The warm temperatures of the British Isles and north-western Europe are the result of the North Atlantic Drift and the Gulf Stream. The same currents also cause the exceedingly cold temperatures in Newfoundland during the winter months.
Bordering the Atlantic Ocean on the west are North America and South America, while Africa and Asia lie to the east. The Atlantic is home to various sea life such as whales, sea turtles, seals, sea lions, manatees, and dolphins.
However, the ocean suffers from recurring oil spills and pollution from nearby industrial plants, which endangers the ocean’s inhabitants.
With the abundance of precious stones and petroleum lying on the ocean’s floor, the Atlantic has significantly improved the economies of the countries on its borders. Commercial fishing adds to its arsenal, with cod, mackerel, haddock, and herring among the most sought-after fish.
The Pacific Ocean
The largest and deepest of the five oceans is the Pacific Ocean. The ocean covers over 60 million square miles, comprising 33% of the Earth’s entire surface area. The Challenger Deep in the western North Pacific is the deepest section of the ocean, located in the famed Mariana’s Trench.
Spanning from California in the United States to China, the ocean also borders Australia and South America on its western coast. The water in the Pacific Ocean is warmer than the Atlantic Ocean. Temperatures range from 32 degrees to 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
Various fish species inhabit the Pacific Ocean, with tuna, salmon, snapper, and herring among the most prevalent. In addition to the abundance of fish, natural gas, petroleum, and pearls are present on the ocean floor.
Sadly, the Pacific Ocean and its inhabitants have fallen victim to the increase in polluted rivers. Fertilizer, waste from nearby industrial plants, and sewage contaminate rivers in east and southeast Asian countries. The river spills contaminate the ocean in the draining process, leaving the wildlife endangered.
The Indian Ocean
The Indian Ocean is the third largest ocean on Earth, spanning over 43 million square miles. With an average depth of over two miles, the deepest area is Diamantina Deep, which is five miles deep.
The ocean sits to the south of Europe and Asia. Africa lies on the west, and Australia on the east. Antarctica and the Southern Ocean lie to the south.
The waters of the Indian Ocean are generally warm, creating a suitable environment for the myriad of phytoplankton and plant life. With a favorable environment for fishing, tuna and shrimp are popular targets for fishermen.
However, overfishing endangers the ocean, which affects marine life overall. Additionally, an increasing amount of waste continues to threaten natural ecosystems in the ocean.
The Southern/Antarctic Ocean
Previously called the Antarctic Ocean, the Southern Ocean, as its name suggests, lies the farthest south of all the oceans. Considered the fourth largest ocean, the Southern Ocean surrounds Antarctica and encompasses the southernmost areas of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans.
The Southern Ocean spans over 7 million square miles, with an average depth between 13,000 and 16,000 feet. The Southern Ocean’s icebergs are composed of freshwater.
The most narrow area is the Drake Passage, which is 600 miles wide. This section of the ocean lies between the Antarctic Peninsula and the South American continent. The temperature of the water ranges from 28 degrees to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bordering Australia, Chile, and South Africa, the Southern Ocean is home to an abundance of krill. The ocean floor is home to corals, sea spiders, sponges, and isopods. Studies show that the seabed holds gas and oil fields, gold, and other precious minerals.
The Southern Ocean’s validity as an ocean in its own right has been keenly debated. This controversy is due to debate surrounding the ocean’s boundaries, which have to be determined and agreed upon by the countries comprising the International Hydrographic Organization. Disagreements have arisen, but for the time being, the Southern Ocean is still considered a major ocean.
Though a topic of debate, the answer to the question regarding the number of oceans depends on your perspective. Some experts acknowledge the autonomy of each of the five distinct bodies of water with their unique boundaries and environments. Still, others in positions of authority disagree with this assessment.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is one of many expert resources that views the five separate oceans as one gigantic Global Ocean.
Whether viewed as five separate oceans or one gigantic ocean, this body of water collectively covers over 139 million square miles of the Earth’s surface, making the World Ocean the most abundant natural resource on the Earth.