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The Atlantic Ocean

The Atlantic Ocean (Greek mythology: "Sea of Atlas"), second largest of the world's oceans, occupies an elongated, S-shaped basin extending in a north-south direction and is divided into the North Atlantic and South Atlantic by equatorial countercurrents at about 8 degrees northern latitude. Bordered by North and South America on the west and Europe and Africa on the east, the Atlantic is linked to the Pacific Ocean via the Arctic Ocean on the north and the Drake Passage on the south. The Panama Canal provides an artificial connection between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. On the east, the dividing line between the Atlantic and the Indian oceans runs along the 20 degrees E meridian.




Low pressure system over the North Atlantic northwest of Ireland. (OrbView-2, SeaWiFS Project)
Dust blowing across the northwest coast of Africa toward the Canary Islands (OrbView-2, SeaWiFS Project)
The waters off the coast of Argentina show various large phytoplankton blooms in the waters of the south Atlantic Ocean. (OrbView-2, SeaWiFS Project)
The shallower waters around the Bahamas and Cuba contrast with the darker water in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. (OrbView-2, SeaWiFS Project)

Mid-Atlantic Ridge


The principal feature of the bottom topography of the Atlantic Ocean is a large submarine mountain range called the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. This ridge extends from Iceland in the north to approximately 58 degrees southern latitude and is part of the World-spanning Mid-Ocean Ridge System. A broad rift valley, producing new volcanic crust material and thereby spreading the seafloor between Africa and America, extends in the center of the ridge over most of its length.



The youngest of the world's oceans


In Geological terms, the Atlantic Ocean appears to be the youngest of the world's oceans. Evidence indicates that it did not exist prior to 150 million years ago, when the former super continent Pangaea broke-up and continental plates rafted apart by the process of seafloor spreading.



Ocean currents


The water surface is usually ice-covered up north in Labrador Sea, Denmark Strait, and in the northern Baltic Sea from October to June. The warm currents of the North Atlantic, which include the North Equatorial Current, the Canaries Current, and the Gulf Stream, flow in a clockwise direction. The currents in the South Atlantic, among which are the Brazil, Benguela, and South Equatorial currents, run in a counterclockwise direction. Each gyre extends from near the equator to about latitude 45°.





The climate of the Atlantic Ocean is strongly influenced by the temperature gradients between the different water currents. The Gulf Stream, for example,

warms the atmosphere of the British Isles and northwestern Europe, and the cold water currents contribute to heavy fog off the coast of northeastern Canada (the Grand Banks area) and the northwestern coast of Africa. The most prominent Atlantic Ocean climate feature is the tropical cyclone. From these cyclons, heavy hurricanes develop off the coast of Africa near Cape Verde and move westward into the Caribbean Sea; hurricanes can occur from May to December, but are most frequent from August to November.





The Atlantic has been extensively explored since the earliest settlements were established along its shores. The Carthaginians already initiated commercial shipping between the Mediterranean Sea and the NE Atlantic Ocean. From the 7th century A.D., the Vikings navigated the Atlantic and probably reached North America as early as 1000 years ago. In the 15th century, Portuguese and Spanish navigators opened up ship routes along the African and American coast and Columbus were the most famous among the early explorers. After Columbus, European exploration rapidly accelerated, and many new trade routes were established. As a result, today the Atlantic is - and will remain - the major trade-artery between Europe, Africa and the Americas. Kiel Canal (Germany), Oresund (Denmark-Sweden), Bosporus (Turkey), Strait of Gibraltar (Morocco-Spain), and the St. Lawrence Seaway (Canada-US) are important strategic access waterways of the marginal Atlantic Ocean.





Besides its major transportation and communication routes, the Atlantic offers rich oil and gas occurrences in the bedrocks of the continental shelves and the world's richest fishing resources, especially in the waters covering the shelves. The major species of fish caught are cod, haddock, hake, herring, and mackerel. The most productive fishing areas include the Grand Banks off Newfoundland (over fished by the early 1990s), the shelf area off Nova Scotia, Georges Bank off Cape Cod, the Bahama Banks, the waters around Iceland, the Irish Sea, the Dogger Bank of the North Sea, and the Falkland Banks. Additionally, eel, lobster, and partly whales are also taken in great quantities. Further natural resources are sand and gravel aggregates, metallic nodules and precious stones.


Natural hazards result from icebergs common in Davis Strait, Denmark Strait, and the northwestern Atlantic Ocean from February to August. Persistent fog can be a maritime shipping hazard from May to September. Endangered marine species include the manatee, seals, sea lions, turtles, and whales, while drift net fishing accelerates the decline of fish stands and contributing to international disputes. Industrial and municipal pollution occurs off eastern US, southern Brazil, and eastern Argentina; oil pollution in Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, Mediterranean Sea, North Sea and Baltic Sea.



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