The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest ocean on our planet after the Pacific, but larger than the other four oceans, Indian, Southern and Arctic. It covers around one fifth (20%) of the earths surface.
The Atlantic Ocean is the earths youngest ocean and did not exist around 200 million years ago. During the dinosaur periods, the land mass called ‘Pangaea’ (the only land continent that existed) began to break up which brought about the birth of the Atlantic. The Late Cretaceous period saw the young Atlantic being only still 300 kilometres wide.
The oceans name is derived from the Greek mythology and means the ‘Sea of Atlas’. The oldest known mention of this name is contained in ‘The Histories of Herodotus’ (the first work of history in Western literature) written around 440 BC.
The Atlantic Ocean is located between the continents of North and South America, Europe, Africa and Antarctica. The waters at the surface of the North Atlantic Ocean are saltier than those of any other ocean Currents may bring high salinity water into the North Atlantic from surrounding saltier seas. The rate of evaporation plays a role in determining salinity.
The higher the rate of evaporation, the higher the salinity, because the salt to water concentration increases as water evaporates. Increased levels of precipitation, as in equatorial regions, will decrease salinity by diluting the salt water. River inflows also dilute salt concentrations, and so too does the melting of sea ice.
The outflow from the Mediterranean sea brings very salty water into the North Atlantic, and is the largest contributing factor to the salinity of this part of the ocean.
This ocean occupies an elongated, S-shaped basin which extends in a north-south direction and is divided into the North Atlantic and South Atlantic by Equatorial Counter Currents.
The S-shape of the Atlantic Ocean results in two distinct basins with their own circulation systems. In the Northern Atlantic currents flow in a clockwise direction, while in the Southern Atlantic currents flow in a anticlockwise direction.
What causes this is a process called ‘Coriolis force’ – a force that as a result of the rotation of the earth deflects moving objects to the right in the northern hemisphere and to the left in the southern hemisphere.
The Atlantic is also split down by the middle by the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge also contains a rift that is constantly widening and filling with molten lava which is pushing North and South America away from Europe and Africa.
Falling onto the shores of the Americas on the west and Europe and Africa on the east, the Atlantic is a component of the all-encompassing World Ocean, linked to the Pacific Ocean by the Arctic Ocean on the north and the Drake Passage on the south.
The Atlantic Ocean connects to the Pacific by means of a man-made connection called the ‘Panama Canal’. On the east, the dividing line between the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean is the East meridian (a major fishing are for India), running south from Cape Agulhas to Antarctica.
The Atlantic is separated from the Arctic by a line from Greenland to northwestern Iceland and then from northeastern Iceland to the southernmost tip of Spitsbergen and then to North Cape in northern Norway.
The Atlantic Ocean extends south to Antarctica and connects to the Southern Ocean.
The Atlantic Ocean occupies an area of about 82,400,000 square kilometres (31,800,000 sq miles). The land area that drains into the Atlantic is four times that of either the Pacific or Indian oceans. The volume of the Atlantic Ocean measures around 323,600,000 cubic kilometres.
The average depths of the Atlantic is 3,926 metres (12,881 feet). The greatest depth, 8,605 metres (28,232 feet), is in the Puerto Rico Trench. The width of the Atlantic varies from 2,848 kilometres (1,770 miles) between Brazil and Liberia to about 4,830 kilometres (3,000 miles) between the United States and Northern Africa.