How Many Oceans Are There?

Tell me if you’ve ever thought about this—when you’re thinking about living on the coast of a particular continent, do you identify that coast by which side of the continent it’s on, or which ocean it’s bordered by? It’s an interesting topic to dwell on, and in the article below, we’re going to discuss the handful of named oceans on planet Earth—how many there are, where they are, and some of the important details that you should realize about each of them. Though the planet is technically only covered by one single ocean, we nevertheless have divided several bodies of water, recognizable by borders created along certain coordinates.

Are you an East Coaster, or a West Coaster? If you live in the United States, that’s tantamount to asking if you’re an Atlantic-dweller or a Pacific-dweller, considering the respective oceans that these sides of the North American continent connect to. Most of us identify by all of the major landmarks that we happen to live close to, even if they don’t happen to be an ocean. But if you do live next to an ocean, then you’re intimately aware of how important that fact can be to everyone else that does, too. Location, location, location, as they say.

Given that the majority of the planet is covered by water—upwards of 70%, approximately—it’s of slight importance that we recognize the various oceans that make up that massive amount of Earth’s surface. They’ve been divided and broken down for reasons, you know, and they’re reasons that we’re going to explore in the article, below.

An Ocean, Divided

As stated above, it doesn’t technically matter how we’ve decided to divide the oceans—they all come together to constitute a single, massive, planetary, saltwater ocean. The fact that we’ve drawn boundaries through it to separate them into five (sometimes four) different bodies of water doesn’t mean that the oceans are actually divided, at all. It’s a convenience of geography and oceanography, mostly, and correlates with our need to understand a singular body of water that covers more than 70% of the planet Earth.

Heck, the entire world isn’t even in agreement about the total number of oceans that should be recognized. For a great while, only four oceans were recognized, but a fifth was recommended as recently as the past two decades—some areas of study are still catching up to that concept, or outright haven’t accepted it.

But it doesn’t change the fact that we’re going to recognize those five potential oceans, today, and tell you about them. Even the newest of the bunch is going to get to share in that spotlight. Obviously, there’s a reason for the recent proposal of this fifth ocean.

The Five Oceans

Though there is still some debate about the final ocean that constitutes this list, most areas of the world have agreed upon the coordinates and boundaries that have been drawn to separate the rest of them. They differ in sizes, regions, climates, and common weather patterns. The types of aquatic wildlife living in the oceans will differ depending on where you look, but many of the migrate seasonally to different oceans throughout the world.

The science surrounding Earth’s oceans readily illustrate how connected these bodies of water are, while still demonstrating the reasons that we’ve chosen to separate them on maps. Few in the scientific community will debate against the necessity of this.

Below, we’re going to tell you a little bit about each of them. For several, only the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, and Arctic Oceans are regularly acknowledged, but in the past two decades, we have a new contender to add to the list—the Southern Ocean.

Pacific Ocean

On most maps, the Pacific Ocean is almost perfectly bisected by Earth’s equator. This separates it into two distinct northern and southern regions. But this massive body of water is also what separates North and South America from the continents of Asia and Australia.

We’ll return to this interesting point in our discussion below, but the Pacific Ocean is actually the largest ocean on Earth no matter which way you choose to examine it. The deepest part of Earth’s surface can be found here, and the combined map coverage of the Pacific is greater than all of Earth’s landmasses, combined. Take that in for a moment. This region is massive almost beyond comprehension, and therefore one of Earth’s most singularly critical environments, just because of how much it includes.

Atlantic Ocean

The Atlantic Ocean is another massive geographic entity on Earth’s surface, and wide swaths of its borders connect to the other oceans on the planet. To the north, it connects to the Arctic Ocean. To the northeast, it connects to the Indian Ocean. To the southwest, it connects to the Pacific. And finally, to the south, it connects to the Southern Ocean (for those that recognize the Southern as Earth’s fifth ocean.)

In spite of it being sandwiched between the other oceans, this is a truly massive entity—the second largest ocean on the planet, and the connecting body of water between many continents.

Indian Ocean

It’s fairly obvious where the Indian Ocean has gained its name, and that has a lot to do with the continents that serve as this ocean’s boundaries. Obviously, it’s connected to India. But in terms of continental landmasses, it’s bordered by Africa, Asia, and Australia. It connects with the Atlantic Ocean on the west, the Pacific Ocean to the east, and to the south, the Southern Ocean.

The Indian Ocean has a particularly rich history due to its importance for early trade between the lands that it’s between. Asian, European, and African cultures developed incredibly fruitful trade routes through the Indian Ocean, but it’s not entirely a bright history—it’s marred by the degree to which these trade corridors facilitated the horror of slave trading and violent colonial oppression.

Arctic Ocean

Because it’s the smallest of the planet’s recognized oceans, it’s actually garnered a few other names that you might be familiar with. The Arctic Ocean is occasionally referred to as the Arctic Mediterranean Sea or the Arctic Sea. All of these separate monikers refer to the same body of water.

It certainly lives up to its frigid name, too. Throughout certain parts of the year, the Arctic Ocean is almost entirely covered by sea ice. This provides an environment that’s actually ideal for the ecosystem that’s grown up around it, be they people who have become accustomed to the cold climate, or wildlife species that are dependent on using that ice for hunting, like polar bears.

Southern Ocean (Antarctic)

The newest ocean to be formally recognized by the world is the Southern Ocean (or, as it’s occasionally called, the Antarctic Ocean.) Predictably, the waters of this ocean surround the southernmost continent on Earth, Antarctica. The waters of this region are so markedly different from the other oceans that surround it, that most institutions have decided that it should be recognized separately.

Oceans Ranked by Size

Interestingly, there are two different ways that we can recognize the size of Earth’s oceans. Obviously, we can look at the area each of them covers on a global map, in the same ways that we might examine the landmass of the planet’s continents. However, unlike with landmasses, we can also measure ocean depth.

We’re going to do both, sort of. Map coverage is much easier to measure, and so we’ll begin there. However, measuring ocean depth and volume is almost impossibly difficult. Instead, we’re going to introduce you to several of the deepest spots that you’ll find in Earth’s oceans; those places that go so deep into the water that they’re barely penetrated by light, and have such crushing atmospheric pressure that people cannot exist there without the assistance of technology.

Spooky and engrossing at the same time, right?

As we said above, the largest ocean in terms of map coverage is most definitely the Pacific. But how do the rest rank up?

  • Pacific Ocean: 168,723,000 square kilometers (approximately)
  • Atlantic Ocean: 85,133,000 square kilometers (approximately)
  • Indian Ocean: 70,560,000 square kilometers (approximately)
  • Southern Ocean: 21,960,000 square kilometers (approximately)
  • Arctic Ocean: 15,588,000 square kilometers (approximately)

You can read some of our other articles at 24/7 Continents if you’d like to compare the sizes of the oceans to some of the continental landmasses covering Earth. The results may surprise you! And all of these serves as a firm reminder of just how much of the planet is covered by water!

How Low Can You Go?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the deepest point in Earth’s oceans can be found in the Pacific—it’s the biggest in more way than one! But each of the oceans runs particularly deep, and in the list below, we’ll show you the deepest point of each of the planet’s five oceans.

  • The Mariana Trench, in the Pacific, runs to a depth of 35,827 feet.
  • The Puerto Rico Trench, in the Atlantic, goes as deep as 30,246 feet.
  • The Java Trench in the Indian Ocean reaches 24,460 feet in depth.
  • In the Southern Ocean, depths of 23,737 have been recorded!
  • In the Arctic Ocean, the Arctic Basin runs to 18,456 feet.

At their deepest, the pressures in these environments are so crushing that people cannot live there. In spite of this, technology has allowed us to begin exploring places like the Mariana Trench more thoroughly. But even though we’ve known these depths for years, some of these deep places of the world have more to find and explore than anywhere else on the planet.

Whether you recognize four or five oceans on Earth, we hope that the above article has helped you to learn more about them. No matter how many there are, it’s impossible to deny that the planet’s oceans are important.

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