Geography Facts About the Pacific Ocean

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The Pacific Ocean is one of the world’s five oceans. The ocean got its name from Portuguese Explorer, Ferdinand Magellan. Magellan experienced favorable winds upon reaching the ocean, naming it  “Mar Pacifico,” which means “peaceful sea” in Portuguese. Learn some geography facts about this ocean.

World’s Largest Ocean

With an area of 165,250,000 square kilometers (63,800,000 square miles), the Pacific Ocean is the world’s largest ocean. The Pacific Ocean makes up about 28% of the Earth’s surface area and represents 46% of the water surface area. The area of the Pacific Ocean is larger than the total area of all of the world’s land masses.

Map of the Pacific Ocean. Source: CIA Factbook

World’s Deepest Ocean

The Pacific Ocean is also the world’s deepest ocean. The western pacific is transected by deep trench. Among these trenches is the Mariana Trench where Challenger Deep, the deepest point in the world with a depth of 10,984 meters (36,037 feet). The average depth of the Pacific Ocean is  4,000 meters (13,000 feet).


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The Pacific Ocean is Shrinking

As a result of plate tectonics, the Pacific Ocean is shrinking by roughly 0.5 km2  per year for the last 180 million years as the plates move towards one another (Alvarez, 1982).

Ring of Fire

Most of the world’s active volcanoes are located underwater and occur in an area in the Pacific Ocean called the “Ring of Fire”. More than 450 volcanoes stretch for 40,250 kilometers (25,000 miles) in a u-shape from the southern tip of South America, along the west coast of North America, across the Bering Strait, down through Japan, and into New Zealand. This represents more than 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes. The Ring of Fire is also an area of frequent earthquakes with 90% of the world’s earthquakes occurring in this area.

Map showing the Ring of Fire. Source: Gringer adapted from USGS, public domain

Gyres and Plastic Pollution

Gyres, large circular currents in the ocean, have helped to make the Pacific Ocean the most polluted ocean in the world. The North Pacific Gyre is home to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an enormous accumulation of marine debris and trash that circulates in two distinctive zones. A study from 2014 found that the Pacific Ocean holds almost two trillion pieces of plastic, about a third of all plastic pollution in the world’s oceans (Eriksen et al.).

Concentrations of marine debris known as the Ocean Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Ocean. Map: NOAA.
Concentrations of marine debris known as the Ocean Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Ocean. Map: NOAA.

Further Location in the Ocean from Land

The Pacific Ocean is home to Point Nemo, a  pole of inaccessibility that marks the furthest location from the ocean to the nearest coastline. From the Latin meaning  “no one”, Point Nemo got its name from Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo who roams the oceans in his submarine.

The red star makes the location of Point Nemo.
The red star makes the location of Point Nemo.

Spacecraft Cemetery

Where do satellites and spacecraft end up after being removed from orbit? As satellites fall back to Earth, debris that remains after burning up upon re-entry is buried deep within a remote location in the Pacific Area. This spacecraft cemetery is located near Point Nemo and contains over 161 pieces of debris including the Russian Mir space station.

Map showing the location of the spacecraft cemetery. Source: NASA.
Map showing the location of the spacecraft cemetery. Source: NASA.

White Shark Café

The Pacific Ocean is also home to the White Shark Café, a distance location off the coast of Baja California that scientists are still trying to figure out why these sharks hang out there.

Resources

Alvarez, W. (1982). Geological evidence for the geographical pattern of mantle return flow and the driving mechanism of plate tectonicsJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth87(B8), 6697-6710.

Eriksen, M., Lebreton, L. C., Carson, H. S., Thiel, M., Moore, C. J., Borerro, J. C., … & Reisser, J. (2014). Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans: more than 5 trillion plastic pieces weighing over 250,000 tons afloat at seaPloS one9(12), e111913.

Gardner, J. V., Armstrong, A. A., Calder, B. R., & Beaudoin, J. (2014). So, how deep is the Mariana Trench?Marine Geodesy37(1), 1-13.

Oceans :: Pacific Ocean — The World Factbook. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/zn.html

What is the Ring of Fire? : Ocean Exploration Facts: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/rof.html


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