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How Many Oceans Are There in the World?

© 232323Ni/Shutterstock On a ferry in the Atlantic Ocean

By Lauren Cahn, Reader's Digest

How many oceans are there in the world, you ask? (A) 1 (B) 4 (C) 5 (D) all of the above The answer is...D. So congratulations! Because technically, you couldn't have gotten this question wrong even if you tried. You see, there is only one global ocean on the planet. It covers 71 percent of the Earth's surface. The rest of the Earth is taken up by those comparatively small islands (aka continents) known as Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America. Historically, this vast global ocean was divided into the following four smaller oceans:

  • Atlantic

  • Pacific

  • Indian

  • Arctic


Of these, the first three are considered the "major" oceans, and the Arctic is considered somewhat of a "lesser" ocean. But in counting how many oceans there are, no one ever actually leaves the Arctic out of it. Besides, whether major or not, all four belong to that vast, global body of water that represents 97 percent of the Earth's water supply (a mere 1 percent of the Earth's water is freshwater). So where does the fifth ocean come in? At the turn of the new millennium, the International Hydrographic Organization proposed that a new ocean be recognized: the Southern Ocean, which is now recognized by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names as extending from the coast of Antarctica to the line of latitude at 60 degrees South. And get this: the Southern Ocean isn't even the smallest of the five oceans making up the "world ocean." That distinction goes to the Arctic. Here are a few more ocean facts that might surprise you:

  • The deepest ocean (35,837 feet) and the largest ocean is the Pacific.


  • The first ocean to have been crossed by both ship and plane is the Atlantic.


  • The warmest ocean is the Indian, and this has limited its ability to sustain sea life (because the high temperature inhibits the growth of phytoplankton, which is a major food source for marine life). Another reason for the lack of marine life in the Indian Ocean is its low oxygen content.

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News: How Many Oceans Are There in the World?
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