Pacific Ocean

"North Pacific", "Pacific", and "Pacific region" redirect here. For the region in Colombia, see Pacific Region, Colombia. For other uses, see North Pacific (disambiguation) and Pacific (disambiguation).
The Pacific Ocean
Ring of Fire of the Pacific Ocean.

The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Southern Ocean (or, depending on definition, to Antarctica) in the south and is bounded by Asia and Australia in the west and the Americas in the east.

At 165.25 million square kilometers (63.8 million square miles) in area, this largest division of the World Ocean—and, in turn, the hydrosphere—covers about 46% of the Earth's water surface and about one-third of its total surface area, making it larger than all of the Earth's land area combined. [1]

The equator subdivides it into the North Pacific Ocean and South Pacific Ocean, with two exceptions: the Galápagos and Gilbert Islands, while straddling the equator, are deemed wholly within the South Pacific. [2] The Mariana Trench in the western North Pacific is the deepest point in the world, reaching a depth of 10,911 metres (35,797 ft). [3]

Both the center of the Water Hemisphere and the Western Hemisphere are in the Pacific Ocean.

Though the peoples of Asia and Oceania have travelled the Pacific Ocean since prehistoric times, the eastern Pacific was first sighted by Europeans in the early 16th century when Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama in 1513 and discovered the great "southern sea" which he named Mar del Sur. The ocean's current name was coined by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan during the Spanish circumnavigation of the world in 1521, as he encountered favourable winds on reaching the ocean. He called it Mar Pacífico, which in both Portuguese and Spanish means "peaceful sea". [4]


Early migrations

Universalis Cosmographia, the Waldseemüller map dated 1507, from a time when the nature of the Americas was ambiguous, particularly North America, as a possible part of Asia, was the first map to show the Americas separating two distinct oceans. South America was generally considered a "new world" and shows the name "America" for the first time, after Amerigo Vespucci
Made in 1529, the Diogo Ribeiro map was the first to show the Pacific at about its proper size
Maris Pacifici by Ortelius (1589). One of the first printed maps to show the Pacific Ocean [5]
USS Lexington under air attack on 8 May 1942 during the Battle of the Coral Sea

Important human migrations occurred in the Pacific in prehistoric times. About 3000 BC, the Austronesian peoples on the island of Taiwan mastered the art of long-distance canoe travel and spread themselves and their languages south to the Philippines, Indonesia, and maritime Southeast Asia; west towards Madagascar; southeast towards New Guinea and Melanesia (intermarrying with native Papuans); and east to the islands of Micronesia, Oceania and Polynesia. [6]

Long-distance trade developed all along the coast from Mozambique to Japan. Trade, and therefore knowledge, extended to the Indonesian islands but apparently not Australia. By at least 878 when there was a significant Islamic settlement in Canton much of this trade was controlled by Arabs or Muslims. In 219 BC Xu Fu sailed out into the Pacific searching for the elixir of immortality. From 1404 to 1433 Zheng He led expeditions into the Indian Ocean.

European exploration

Map of the Pacific Ocean during European Exploration, circa 1702–1707.
Map of the Pacific Ocean during European Exploration, circa 1754.

The first contact of European navigators with the western edge of the Pacific Ocean was made by the Portuguese expeditions of António de Abreu and Francisco Serrão to the Maluku Islands in 1512, [7] [8] and with Jorge Álvares's expedition to southern China in 1513, [9] both ordered by Afonso de Albuquerque.

The east side of the ocean was discovered by Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa in 1513 after his expedition crossed the Isthmus of Panama and reached a new ocean. [10] He named it Mar del Sur (literally, "Sea of the South" or "South Sea") because the ocean was to the south of the coast of the isthmus where he first observed the Pacific.

Later, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan sailed the Pacific on a Castilian (Spanish) expedition of world circumnavigation starting in 1519. Magellan called the ocean Pacífico (or "Pacific" meaning, "peaceful") because, after sailing through the stormy seas off Cape Horn, the expedition found calm waters. The ocean was often called the Sea of Magellan in his honor until the eighteenth century. [11] Although Magellan himself died in the Philippines in 1521, Spanish Basque navigator Juan Sebastián Elcano led the expedition back to Spain across the Indian Ocean and round the Cape of Good Hope, completing the first world circumnavigation in 1522. [12] Sailing around and east of the Moluccas, between 1525 and 1527, Portuguese expeditions discovered the Caroline Islands [13] and Papua New Guinea. [14] In 1542–43 the Portuguese also reached Japan. [15]

In 1564, five Spanish ships consisting of 379 explorers crossed the ocean from Mexico led by Miguel López de Legazpi and sailed to the Philippines and Mariana Islands. [16] For the remainder of the 16th century, Spanish influence was paramount, with ships sailing from Mexico and Peru across the Pacific Ocean to the Philippines, via Guam, and establishing the Spanish East Indies. The Manila galleons operated for two and a half centuries linking Manila and Acapulco, in one of the longest trade routes in history. Spanish expeditions also discovered Tuvalu, the Marquesas, the Cook Islands, the Solomon Islands, and the Admiralty Islands in the South Pacific. [17]

Later, in the quest for Terra Australis (i.e., "the [great] Southern Land"), Spanish explorers in the 17th century discovered the Pitcairn and Vanuatu archipelagos, and sailed the Torres Strait between Australia and New Guinea, named after navigator Luís Vaz de Torres. Dutch explorers, sailing around southern Africa, also engaged in discovery and trade; Abel Janszoon Tasman discovered Tasmania and New Zealand in 1642. [18]

In the 16th and 17th century Spain considered the Pacific Ocean a Mare clausum—a sea closed to other naval powers. As the only known entrance from the Atlantic the Strait of Magellan was at times patrolled by fleets sent to prevent entrance of non-Spanish ships. On the western end of the Pacific Ocean the Dutch threatened the Spanish Philippines. [19]

The 18th century marked the beginning of major exploration by the Russians in Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. Spain also sent expeditions to the Pacific Northwest reaching Vancouver Island in southern Canada, and Alaska. The French explored and settled Polynesia, and the British made three voyages with James Cook to the South Pacific and Australia, Hawaii, and the North American Pacific Northwest. In 1768, Pierre-Antoine Véron, a young astronomer accompanying Louis Antoine de Bougainville on his voyage of exploration, established the width of the Pacific with precision for the first time in history. [20] One of the earliest voyages of scientific exploration was organized by Spain in the Malaspina Expedition of 1789–1794. It sailed vast areas of the Pacific, from Cape Horn to Alaska, Guam and the Philippines, New Zealand, Australia, and the South Pacific. [17]

New Imperialism

See also: New Imperialism
The Bathyscaphe Trieste, before her record dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, 23 January 1960

Growing imperialism during the 19th century resulted in the occupation of much of Oceania by other European powers, and later, Japan and the United States. Significant contributions to oceanographic knowledge were made by the voyages of HMS Beagle in the 1830s, with Charles Darwin aboard; HMS Challenger during the 1870s; the USS Tuscarora (1873–76); and the German Gazelle (1874–76).[ citation needed]

Dupetit Thouars taking over Tahiti on 9 September 1842.

In Oceania, France got a leading position as imperial power after making Tahiti and New Caledonia protectorates in 1842 and 1853 respectively. [21] After navy visits to Easter Island in 1875 and 1887, Chilean navy officer Policarpo Toro managed to negotiate an incorporation of the island into Chile with native Rapanui in 1888. By occupying Easter Island, Chile joined the imperial nations. [22](p53) By 1900 nearly all Pacific islands were in control of Britain, France, United States, Germany, Japan, and Chile. [21]

Although the United States gained control of Guam and the Philippines from Spain in 1898, [23] Japan controlled most of the western Pacific by 1914 and occupied many other islands during World War II. However, by the end of that war, Japan was defeated and the U.S. Pacific Fleet was the virtual master of the ocean. Since the end of World War II, many former colonies in the Pacific have become independent states.