|My class is currently learning about oceans and
ocean currents. There has been some conflicting
thoughts about how many oceans there are in the
world.Could you tell us how many oceans there are
in the world and what their names are.
|Question Date: 2000-01-26|
Your students aren't the only ones to disagree
over the number of oceans in the world. Depending
on who you talk to there are anywhere from three
to five major oceans. Everyone agrees about the
Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and some
geographers also add the Arctic and Antarctic
Oceans. Other geographers call the Arctic a
'marginal sea' and consider the Antarctic to be
only an extension of the big three. You might ask
your students to think about why people argue
about the status of the Antarctic. On the one
hand, if you look at a globe, there're no obvious
land features to separate the Antarctic from the
other oceans, so it seems like it shouldn't get
separate-ocean status. On the other hand, the
Antarctic current (also known as the West-wind
Drift) circles around and around Antarctica, and
so effectively acts as a fence to separate the
Antarctic waters from other ocean waters. So
Antarctic waters are much colder and denser than
waters from the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans.
The definition of oceans is a difficult one
because all of the oceans are connected and so one
has to find places where the ocean is constricted
bytwo land masses coming close to each other.
There is also the difficult (and somewhat
arbitrary) distinction between an ocean and a sea.
All this aside, we can see that the Indian Ocean
is fairly neatly separated from the South Atlantic
on the west by the (relative) proximity of South
Africa and Antarctica. On the east side, it is
separated from the Pacific by Australia and
Indonesia as well as the (relative) closeness of
Australia and Antarctica. In this manner, we can
see that the Aleutian Islands separate the North
Pacific from the Arctic Ocean and
a boundary between the North Atlantic and the
Arctic Oceans. The Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
are separated by the Americas and the Straits of
Magellan in the south. This gives us four basic
oceans, the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Indian, and
the Arctic which are sometimes subdivided (rather
arbitrarily but possibly in terms of current
systems which are different in the northern and
southern hemispheres) into North and South
Atlantic and North and South Pacific Oceans.
I can see why this would be a confusing concept.
The word ocean can mean several different things,
just as the word sea. Look both up in the
dictionary and see what you find!
characterized by being bordered on all sides by
land masses. Oceans are typically more open and
not bordered by land masses. Oceans commonly will
have some mixing with other oceans or
According to my calculations there are 5
oceans: the Arctic, the Indian, the Pacific, the
Atlantic, and the Southern Ocean (aka the ocean
that circles Antarctica).
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