The Five Major Oceans: Structure & Properties

Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

In this lesson, you'll take a trip around the world to see each of the five major oceans of planet Earth. You'll learn how you can identify just which ocean you're looking at by noting its general shape and other properties.

Atlantic Ocean

Imagine that you've been asked to become a world ocean explorer. You've been tasked with the assignment to describe each of planet Earth's five major oceans. This information will then be published in a book for future explorers to read and get inspired by.

So, first on the list is the Atlantic Ocean. This ocean is the second largest ocean, covering an area of 29,637,000 square miles (76,762,000 square kilometers), with an average depth of 12,880 feet (3,926 meters). Interestingly, its name comes from Greek mythology, being named after Atlas, one of the Greek Titans.

The Atlantic Ocean
five major oceans

The Atlantic is located between the American continents and Europe and Africa. It follows an S-shape as we move along the eastern American coastlines and the western coastlines of Europe and Africa. Its northern boundary is that of the Arctic Ocean and its southern boundary is that of the Southern or Antarctic Ocean. It's in the Atlantic that strong hurricanes are formed, so this ocean plays an important role in the world's weather pattern.

Pacific Ocean

Moving west of the Atlantic, across the United States, you'll find another ocean, the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific is the largest ocean on Earth, holding more than half of all the water on the planet. It covers an area of 60,060,700 square miles (155,557,000 square kilometers), with a mean depth of 13,215 feet (4,028 meters). That's about 28% of Earth's surface. It's so big, in fact, that it can hold all the world's continents!

The Pacific Ocean
five major oceans

You know you're looking at the Pacific Ocean because it's so large. You can barely see the major continents on either side of it when looking at Earth from space. Hawaii is a little dot between the American continents and Asia. To the north, the Bering Strait is a boundary between the Pacific and the Arctic Ocean. In the south, the eastern coastlines of Australia are its western boundary and the Antarctic Ocean is its southern boundary.

Indian Ocean

Going further to the west, across the Australian continent, you'll find the Indian Ocean. Its boundary is Africa to the west, Asia to the north, Australia to the east, and the Southern Ocean to the south.

The Indian Ocean
five major oceans

The Indian Ocean almost looks circular in shape. Being the third largest ocean, it covers an area of 26,469,000 square miles (68,566,000 square kilometers), with an average depth of 13,002 feet (7,258 meters). It's this ocean that causes the monsoon seasons in the area.

Arctic Ocean

Going further west across the African continent will take you back to the Atlantic, but going north now towards the North Pole and across the Asian continent will take you to the Arctic Ocean. It's the smallest of the world's oceans, coming in at 5,427,000 square miles (14,056,000 square kilometers), with an average depth of 3,953 feet (1,205 meters).

The Arctic Ocean
five major oceans

The Arctic Ocean's boundaries are the northern coasts of Asia, America, and Europe. Most of this ocean is covered with ice. Some of the ice is permanent and some melts during the summer. Some pieces of ice even form ice islands that move with the ocean's currents!

Southern Ocean

Traveling now to the other end of Earth, to the south back across Asia and across the Indian Ocean, takes you to the Antarctic Ocean or the Southern Ocean. The Southern Ocean is interesting as it truly is a circle. In 2000, the International Hydrographic Organization defined the Southern Ocean as the waters off the coast of Antarctica that reach the 60 degrees southern latitude line. Antarctica is completely surrounded by the Southern Ocean!

The Southern Ocean
five major oceans

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