The exploration of the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean by Europeans began in the age of great geographical discoveries. Today, the Pacific plays an increasingly important role in the life of mankind.
The largest ocean on planet Earth
The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean on the planet. Numerous islands and atolls scattered across its vast expanse, barely visible on the world map, turn out to be real gems of the sea, such as the group of islands in Micronesia.
The Pacific Ocean covers one third of the earth’s surface. It is larger in area than all the continents combined.
History and geography
In 1513, the Spanish navigator Vasco Nunez de Balboa was the first white man to see the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, which he called the Great Ocean. And just seven years later, in 1520, the Portuguese navigator Fernand Magellan made the first circumnavigation of the globe. He discovered a passage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean – later named the Tierra del Fuego Strait in his honor – that allowed sailors to avoid the dangerous waters around Cape Horn. For an attempt to get to know the natives of one of the islands he discovered Magellan, like many other discoverers, had to pay with his own life.
Until the end of the XIX century, few Europeans managed to settle on the fabulous islands of the southern seas. However, the favorable strategic position made the conquest of these lands by colonial states inevitable. For strategic reasons, world powers are still trying to maintain their presence in the Pacific Ocean today. The USA owns the Mariana Islands, the Palau Islands and Hawaii, Russia owns the Kuril Islands (a constant subject of territorial disputes with Japan), France owns French Polynesia, New Caledonia, the Wallis and Futuna Islands. Some British overseas territories in the region have been turned into military bases. But the importance of the Pacific is not limited to the military sphere. Countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan, not to mention Japan and Australia, produce an increasing percentage of the world’s GDP.
The Pacific Ocean, or the Great Ocean as its discoverer called it, is twice the size of the Atlantic Ocean. Along the continental margins, its waters are subdivided into seas. Off the coast of East and Southeast Asia, these are the Banda and Celebes Seas, the South Sea, the South China Sea, the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. Off the coast of Kamchatka, the Pacific Ocean forms the Sea of Okhotsk, and high in the north, the Bering Sea. The deepest sea trenches of the Earth are located in the Pacific Ocean, for example, the depth of the Mariana Trench is 11,034 meters. There are thousands of islands scattered across the vast expanse of water, which can be conditionally divided into two categories. The first category includes islands of volcanic origin, such as Hawaii or Japan. The small Aleutian and Kuril Islands form the so-called fire belt in the North Pacific. The second category is represented by coral islands – reefs, which are located along the equator. They owe their origin to the activity of coral polyps.
- The Atlantic Ocean is bordered by the longitude of Cape Horn, the Indian Ocean by the longitude of the Indochina Peninsula.
- From the south the Pacific Ocean is bounded by Antarctica.
- The northern border runs along the Bering Strait.
- Area: 180 million km2.
- Maximum depth: 11,034 m.
- Maximum recorded wave height: 34 m (in 1933).
- Tidal amplitude: from 5 m in the Bering Strait to 13.5 m in the Sea of Okhotsk.
- The passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean was discovered by the Portuguese navigator Fernand Magellan. His voyage ended in 1521 on the island of Mactan (Philippines), where Magellan was killed by the natives.
- The entire landmass lying in the central and western Pacific Ocean is grouped under the common name of Oceania. It is divided into four regions: Australia, which includes Australia proper, and Keeling, Norfolk, and Christmas Islands. Melanesia, the islands lying between the equator and the Southern Tropic. This group includes New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, the Vanuatu Archipelago (formerly the New Hebrides), New Caledonia, the Bismarck Archipelago and the Fiji Islands. Micronesia is a group of small islands along the equator west of the Philippines. These include Kiribati, the Mariana Islands, the Caroline Islands, the Marshall Islands and the Nauru Islands, Polynesia is the easternmost islands of Oceania, extending as far as Hawaii. This group includes the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and Easter Island. The names of the island groups are of Greek origin: Melanesia means “black islands”, Micronesia means “small islands”, and Polynesia means “many islands”.
- It took Frenchman Gérard d’Aboville exactly 1 million strokes, 4 months and 10 days to paddle a kayak 10,000 kilometers from the coast of Japan to the coast of Washington State in the northwestern United States in 1991.
- One of the most famous explorers of Oceania was the English navigator James Cook (1728-1779). During three great expeditions across the vast Pacific Ocean, Cook managed to discover many islands. In 1779, he was killed by natives in Hawaii.