The Pacific is the world’s largest and deepest ocean. It is so vast that it contains more than half the world’s seawater and covers more than a third of the Earth’s surface.
The Pacific Ocean stretches from the icy Arctic Ocean in the north to the frozen continent of Antarctica in the south, a distance of about 15,500 kilometres. To the west lie the continents of Asia and Australia, and to the east North and South America. At its widest point, near the equator, the ocean measures about 17,700 kilometres across.
The Portuguese sea captain Ferdinand Magellan named the ocean Pacific, which means “peaceful”, in 1520. He had just sailed across the stormy Atlantic Ocean and was pleased to be entering calmer waters.
But the Pacific is not always so calm. The trade winds near the equator are often gentle, but further towards the poles the winds can be much stronger. Violent storms sometimes brew up in the trade-wind belt, too. They are usually called typhoons in the western Pacific and hurricanes in the southern and eastern parts of the ocean. These tropical storms start over the warm ocean and sometimes whirl their way quickly towards land. They whip up huge waves, which can cause flooding along coasts.
Much of the land around the edge of the Pacific is not really “peaceful” either. The rim around the ocean has been called the “ring of fire” because the edges of the continents and offshore islands contain more than three-quarters of the world’s active volcanoes.
ISLANDS AND ISLANDERS
The Pacific is dotted with more than 25,000 islands, many of them very small. The islands are grouped together, sometimes with Australia and New Zealand, to form a region called Oceania. Many Pacific islanders are descended from people who first sailed to the islands from South East Asia thousands of years ago. One large group of scattered islands is known as Polynesia, meaning “many islands”.