10 Jan 2016

The Pacific Ocean

Pacific Ocean Image 1
Pacific Ocean (Photo by By Tony Webster [CC BY 2.0]}

Pacific Ocean Facts


The Pacific is the largest ocean. It is so big that it occupies one third portion of earth’s surface alone. If we combine all the countries and continents of the world, it would be still smaller than the Pacific. The area of this mega ocean is 165.25 million square kilometers or 63.8 million square miles.

Asia is on the eastern side of this ocean and Americas are on the west. The Oceania continent and the Antarctic Ocean is on the south and the Arctic is on the northern limits of the Pacific. The equator divides it into two parts – North and South Pacific.

Some of the important countries in and around the Pacific Ocean are USA, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Philippines, Japan, Russia, China, North and South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore etc.

Islands of the Pacific

Most of the world’s islands are in the Pacific Ocean. The total number of such islands is about 30000. Some which are large and densely populated while some are very small and uninhabited.

Some of the big islands are North and South islands of New Zealand, New Guinea (Indonesia and Papua New Guinea), Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu (Japan), Sakhalin (Russia), Kalimantan (Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei), Taiwan, Tasmania (Australia), Hawaii, Sulawesi (Indonesia), Luzon, Mindanao (Philippines) etc.

The continent of Oceania is completely within the limits of the Pacific. It has thousands of islands. There are many big and small archipelagos.

Fiji
Fiji, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, Polynesia etc are some of the important islands or group of islands of the region.

Geographical Facts 

If someone wants to cross the Pacific from its northern limits to the southernmost boundary then he will have to sail or fly 9600 ml or 15500 km. If we want to cross it from east to west along the 5 degree parallel, then that distance will be about 12300 ml or 19800 km.

But that great length of this mega pond is reducing at a rate of one inch per year. It is due to tectonic activities. The Pacific plate is sinking to the center of the earth. The gain of the Pacific is coming as profit to the Atlantic Ocean which is now gaining in size.

This Ocean is not only vast but also very deep, too. The average depth of the ocean is 4,280 m (14,040 ft; 2,340 fathoms). The deepest point is the Mariana trench (10,911 m or 5,797 ft; 5,966 fathoms), the lowest known point on earth.

Some of the deepest trenches on earth are under the water of the Pacific. The Tonga trench’s depth is close to the Mariana trench. It is 10,882 m (35,702 ft). Some other such trenches are Philippine, Kuril–Kamchatka, Kermadec , Izu-Bonin,  and Japan Trench etc.

Pacific Ocean Image 2
The Waves of the Pacific Credit: Renjishino [CC BY 3.0]

Chokepoints

A checkpoint is a place where a sea or ocean connects with another through a narrow channel or canal.  There are some major choke-points in the Pacific Ocean which have great strategic and economic value.
Panama Canal is the most famous among these choke-points. It connects the Pacific with the Atlantic Ocean. Philips Chanel or the Singapore choke is the narrowest point of the Strait of Malacca which connects the Pacific with the Indian Ocean. Some other important choke-points are Luzon Strait and the Bering Strait.

Climate  

Because of its large size, the climate is very different in different parts of this large ocean. The North and South Pacific regions show similar pattern of climate, if we go towards north or south from the tropics.
The weather around the tropical region is controlled by El Nino and La Nina. The western part of the tropical region experiences heavy rainfall during from the monsoon winds. The winter becomes dry because then the monsoon winds return from the continents.

From the time of late summer the tropical cyclones become active. The time of the cyclone activity varies regionally. It becomes most active during the month of September. There are three tropical cyclone basins on the ocean. The most active one is on the Western Pacific. 

The water near the Arctic and the Southern ocean freezes during the winter. Regular fog is a common characteristic of these regions during the summer months.

Regular trade winds can be seen in the South Pacific. These are of higher speed due to the presence of less land. These winds are nicknamed as the “Roaring Forties”, “Furious Fifties” and “Shrieking Sixties”. Here the numbers indicate the latitudes.

Currents

Difference of temperature, direction of wind flow, and rotation of the earth creates oceanic currants. There are many major and minor currents on the surface of the Pacific.

There are two types of currents: hot and cold. Kuroshio,  North and South Equatorial, Counter Equatorial, East Australian etc are prominent hot ocean currents of the Pacific. Examples of the cold currents are Alaska, Kamchatka, California, Peru etc.

Plates under the Pacific

The layer of the earth is divided in many major and minor plates. Pacific Plate is the largest of all plates. It has an area of 103 million square kilometers. The plate boundaries can be traced by ridges or trenches. For example, the boundary between the Pacific plate and the Nazca plate has resulted in the development of the East Pacific Rise.

Nazca plate or Peru plate is an important Pacific minor plate. It is on the eastern coast of the South America. Some other noteworthy tectonic plates under the water of the ocean are Philippine, Cocos, Easter, Juan Fernandez, and Caroline plate etc.

Ring of Fire

Mt. Fuji of Japan
Mt. Fuji of Japan
There are a series of volcanoes around the basin of the Pacific. These areas are very seismically active. It is called as the “Ring of Fire”.

More than 3/4th of all the volcanoes of the world, passive and active are situated in this belt. About 90% of earthquakes take place here. 

Famous Mt. Fuji of Japan is one of the volcanoes of the ring. Some other important volcanoes of the ring are Chimborazo, Colima, Cotopaxi, Glacier Peak, Krakatoa, Mauna Loa, Redoubt etc.

Economic Importance

Pacific Ocean has great economic importance. Some of the world’s largest economies share the shoreline of this ocean. Japan, China, USA, Australia, South Korea and Russia are among the richest countries of the world. Huge amount of trade takes place through the various sea routes of the Pacific. 

Large scale trading has developed many large ports. Some of the major sea ports which use this ocean are Singapore, Kaohsiung, Ho Chi Minh City, Bussan, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Kelang, Kobe, Incheon, Sydney, Los Angeles, Manila etc.

Large scale fishing can be seen on the northern and eastern part of the Pacific. There are many Tuna fishing zones. It is the source of most the world’s tuna supply. Indiscriminate fishing is destroying the ecological balance of the ocean.

Coral Reefs 

The Indo-Pacific Coral region is known for its variety and abundance of coral species. These corals have formed many big coral reefs. These can be found along the coastlines of in the tropical and semi-tropical regions of the Pacific.

Great Barrier Reef
Corals of Great Barrier Reef

The most famous of all these is the Great Barrier Reef. It is located in the Coral Sea along the coast of Australia’s Queensland. The length of the reef is 2300 km (1400ml). New Caledonia Barrier Reef, Zhongsha Islands, Reed Bank are some of the largest reefs of the Pacific Ocean.

Environmental Problems  

Like every other natural wealth of the earth, the Pacific Ocean is also being threatened by human activities. Years of abuse has created huge plastic pollution. Microscopic pieces of plastic particles are floating in the water harming the ecosystem. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a huge area of the North Atlantic which has become a mega trash can of plastics.
 
Harmful chemical wastes from the factories and the farms are being dumped into the ocean by the rivers. As a result thousands of sea animals and plants are in danger. Many dead zones has been formed into this ocean where no animal can survive. 

The coral reefs are also dying for such activities. In the Philippines, over 70% of the coral reefs are already destroyed. Water pollution as well as global warming is a great threat to the coral reefs and its vibrant colorful ecosystems.

Efforts have been started to save this ocean from such activities. Many organizations are doing their best to stop the pollution of the ocean. Cent percent efforts from all the governments and private entities are needed to complete the task.