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The Ocean

Ocean (from Okeanos, Greek for river, the ancient Greeks noticed that a strong current flowed off Gibraltar, and assumed it was a great river); covers almost three quarters (71%) of the surface of the Earth, and nearly half of the world's marine waters are over 3000 m deep.

This global, interconnected body of salt water, called the World Ocean, is divided by the continents and archipelagos into the following four bodies, from the largest to the smallest: the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and the Arctic Ocean, and, according to some authorities such as International Hydrographic Organization(IHO), a fifth ocean, the Southern Ocean.

Some geographers and some governments but not the US, recognize the IHO as defining official water body names and boundaries. (The US authority is the United States Board on Geographic Names.) The IHO officially sanctioned the Southern Ocean name only in 2000, but its definition by a line of latitude (with IHO members widely disputing which line of latitude) has left its acceptance as a fifth ocean open to question. The National Geographic Society and some other leading geographers and cartographers continue to use "South Pacific", "South Atlantic", and "Indian" Ocean for the waters around Antarctica. A few Oceanographers recognize only four oceans also, treating the Arctic Ocean (or the Arctic Sea) as a part of the Atlantic Ocean. Smaller regions of the oceans are called seas, gulfs, straits and other names.

Geologically, an ocean is an area of oceanic crust covered by water. Oceanic crust is the thin layer of solidified volcanic basalt that covers the Earth's mantle where there are no continents. From this point of view, there are three "oceans" today: the World Ocean, and the Black and Caspian Seas that were formed by the collision of Cimmeria with Laurasia. The Mediterranean Sea is very nearly its own "ocean", being connected to the World Ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar, and indeed several times over the last few million years movement of the African Continent has closed the strait off entirely, making the Mediterranean a fourth "ocean". (The Black Sea is connected to the Mediterranean through the Bosporus, but this is in effect a natural canal, cut through continental rock some 7000 years ago, rather than a piece of oceanic sea floor like the Strait of Gibraltar.)

The area of the World Ocean is 361 million km², its volume is 1370 million km³, and its average depth is 3790 m. Nearly half of the world's marine waters are over 3000 m deep. This does not include seas not connected to the World Ocean, such as the Caspian Sea.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Ocean".