35 fascinating facts about the Pacific Ocean

October 14, 2022 | Environment
Pacific Ocean: the deepest and largest body of water on Earth | Photo: Cerami/Creative Commons

It was born 750 million years ago and is home to the warmest ocean water on the planet. Here are the most surprising facts about the Pacific Ocean.

It's the king of all five oceans of the world and showcases a vast territory of depth and rich marine life.

The Pacific Ocean covers one-third of the planet, touches 42 countries, and is Earth's largest single feature.

Here's everything you should know about the home of the tallest mountains, the largest coral reef, and the biggest waves:

Mar Pacífico: Large and Deep

The Pacific Ocean is the deepest and largest body of water on Earth, with a maximum depth of 35,797 feet (10,911 meters) and a surface area of 63,800,000 square miles (165,250,000 square kilometers).

Western North Pacific's Challenger Deep is the deepest point on Earth. It is located in the Mariana Trench and reaches a depth of 35,853 feet (10,928 meters).

The Pacific Ocean crosses three continents - Asia, Australia, and America - and surrounds over 25,000 small and large islands, uplifted coral platforms, and coral reefs.

It is home to the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest coral reef structure.

Humans reached the western Pacific around 60,000 to 70,000 years ago in the Paleolithic period.

Portuguese navigators and explorers António de Abreu and Francisco Serrão were the first Europeans to reach the western edge of the Pacific Ocean in 1512.

Its name was given by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan (Fernão de Magalhães) during the circumnavigation of the world in 1521. He named it Mar Pacífico (meaning "peaceful sea) after encountering calm waters and sailing with favorable winds.

In 1589, Brabantian geographer and cartographer Abraham Ortelius released Descriptio Maris Pacifici, the first map of the Pacific to be printed.

Between the 16th and 17th centuries, the Pacific Ocean was considered a mare clausum (closed sea) to all other naval nations.

Pacific Ocean: home to three-fourths of the planet's volcanoes | Photo: Winegeart/Creative Commons

Fickle Weather

The Pacific Ocean volume is 171 million cubic miles (714 million cubic kilometers), representing about 50.1 percent of the planet's oceanic water.

The water temperature varies from 29.5 °F (-1.4 °C) closer to the poles to 86 °F (30 °C) near the equator.

The Indo-Pacific Warm Pool (IPWP) is the largest body of warm water on planet Earth. It plays a significant role in global climate as it contracts and expands in size and varies in temperature over decades.

The driest location on the planet is the Atacama Desert, in Chile, near the Pacific coastline. Some areas have not seen a drop of rain in centuries.

The world's largest water basin is home to El Niño and La Niña.

Thunderstorms are relatively rare along the Pacific Coast.

The Alberta clipper is a quick-moving storm that develops on the Pacific front, usually over the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, Canada, and leaves a trail of cold air and snow.

The North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans have a large clockwise current, while the South Atlantic and South Pacific oceans have a large counterclockwise current.

The northward movement of the North Pacific High subtropical anticyclone tends to keep weather relatively dry along the west coast of North America during summer.

Stratus clouds and advection fog also often form over Pacific coastal waters during the warm season.

Pacific Ocean: a territory of strong currents, tropical cyclones, and giant waves | Photo: Pozzi/Creative Commons

Earthquakes and Tsunamis

The Earth's surface is divided into seven large tectonic plates and several smaller ones. The Pacific Ocean lies on a single large plate.

The "Ring of Fire" is a circular region that surrounds the Pacific Ocean with exceptionally high volcanic and earthquake activity. It includes the shores of Japan, Russia, Alaska, Canada, Oregon, Washington state, California, Mexico, Southeast Asia, and many South Pacific islands. The "Ring of Fire" stretches around 40,000 miles (64,000 kilometers) and features three-fourths of the planet's volcanoes.

Over the last 2,000 years, more than 80 percent of tsunamis in the Pacific have resulted from earthquakes.

Tsunamis happen anywhere but mainly occur around the Pacific Ocean.

The tsunami that struck Hawaii in 1946 was caused by an earthquake in the Aleutian Trench, off the Alaska coast, five hours earlier.

Half of the world's biggest waves and most powerful surf breaks are located in and along the Pacific Ocean.

The largest wave ever recorded measured 1,720 feet and was triggered by the largest tsunami of modern times at Lituya Bay in Alaska.

The Pacific Ocean is home to a cemetery of several nuclear weapons and lost bombs.

Over three hundred warheads were detonated from 1945 through 1968 in desert regions and on small Pacific islands after the United States invented the atomic and hydrogen bombs.

Rich and Increasingly Acidic

Tidal ranges across the Pacific are usually under seven feet (two meters), except Papua New Guinea's New Ireland island, with the biggest daily tidal change of up to 13 feet (four meters).

The largest sea in the Pacific Ocean is the Australasian Mediterranean Sea, with an area of 3.505 million square miles (9.080 million square kilometers).

Contrary to the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean is shrinking on three sides by around one inch (2.5 centimeters) per year, i.e., 0.20 square miles (0.52 square kilometers) due to plate tectonics interaction.

Pearls, natural gas, petroleum, and fish are the Pacific's leading sources of wealth.

Sixty percent of the world's fish and seafood is caught in the Pacific Ocean.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the world's largest gyre of floating trash and plastic. It is located between Japan and California and occupies an area of 620 thousand square miles (1.6 million square kilometers).

Since the 19th century, the Pacific Ocean's pH has dropped by 0.1 units, making it more acidic.

In the world's largest ocean, the salinity levels vary from 32 to 37 PSU (practical salinity unit) in the extreme north and southeast, respectively.

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