One can find a mention of the word “Atlantic” in “The Histories of Herodotus” written in around 450 BC. The ocean is second largest among the oceanic divisions of the world, next only to the behemoth Pacific Ocean. The English meaning of the word Atlantic is “Sea of Atlas” that has a Greek mythological connection. It separates Europe and Africa towards the east from North and South America towards the west.
The Atlantic covers almost 22 % of Earth’s surface. The Atlantic as a water body occupies a narrow, elongated and S-shaped basin. The area measures approximately 41,100,000 square miles (106,460,000 square km) and 31,830,000 square miles (82,440,000 square km) with its dependent seas such as the Caribbean Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, etc. and without them respectively. The average depth with its seas included reaches 10,925 feet (3,300 meters) and it achieves its maximum depth, called Milwaukee Deep in the Puerto Rico Trench, north of the island of Puerto Rico amounting to 27,493 feet (8,380 meters).
The variation in the breadth of the ocean from east to west is considerable. It measures about 2,060 miles (3,320 km) between Newfoundland and Ireland, widens in far south to more than 3,000 miles (4,800 km) and then constricts again narrowing the distance from Cape São Roque, Braz to Cape Palmas, Liberia to approximately 1,770 miles (2,850 km). It gets broader southwards, bordered by simple coastlines almost without islands. The ocean touches Antarctica between the Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope on a full front of nearly 4,000 miles (6,500 km).
The Atlantic has the largest drainage area to receive water, beating the Pacific Ocean. The continents on both its sides slope toward it. Resultantly, water in a significant proportion from the major rivers of the world that include the Orinoco, the Mississippi, the St. Lawrence, the Amazon, the Río de la Plata, the Niger, the Loire, the Congo, the Elbe, the Rhine and the great rivers draining into the Mediterranean, Black, and Baltic seas, flows into it. The North Atlantic is rich in islands, in tributary seas and the variety of the coastline in comparison to the South Atlantic. In the west, the latter engulfs the Gulfs of Mexico and St. Lawrence, the Caribbean Sea, and Baffin and Hudson Bays. In the east, it includes the Black, North, Mediterranean, and Baltic seas.
The human and physical elements of the geography of the Atlantic Ocean are touched upon in this article.
The breaking up of the supercontinent Pangaea approximately 200 million years ago led to the formation of the Atlantic Ocean. The continents, Europe, Africa and the Americas drifted away from each other, and the ocean became a major artery connecting them.
The ocean is formed up of three areas. The continental shelf is approximately 100 to 200 meters in depth, and it stretches up to a few hundred kilometers. Ahead of the shelf, the continental slope dips slowly reaching a depth of approximately 4,000 meters, and there the ocean floor extends itself across most of the Atlantic.
The Atlantic Ocean is home to numerous islands. The bigger ones – Cuba, Newfoundland, Ireland and Great Britain – lie nearby the coastal regions.
A behemoth submarine mountain range, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, is located along the floor and in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It rises in the north-south direction. It is a divergent tectonic plate and forms a borderline between the American and the European plates. Magma rising through the crust of the Earth constantly forms new seafloor in this region. Sea floor extends outwardly and drifts away the Europe and Africa on one side and Americas on the other from each other. The rate of spreading of the plates is approximately 3 cm per year.
Around the ridge, the region gets dominated by massive earthquakes and volcanic activity. The mountain range forms islands when few of its portions elevates above the ocean’s surface. The biggest of these volcanic islands created just 20,000 years is the Iceland.
The majority of the Atlantic Ocean region has a moderate and mild climate like any maritime climate as the ocean water has a balancing effect on temperatures. Fog forms up due to mixing up of the cold air with warm water, and it creates navigation problem for ships. In the Northern Atlantic, breaking of ice sheets forms icebergs which drift southwards.
Iceberg that broke off Antarctica
The movement of wind is a perennial phenomenon in almost all regions of the Atlantic Ocean. Ocean currents affect climate by transporting cold and warm waters to different regions. Tradewinds rush from the Tropic of Capricorn and Cancer towards the equator. Western winds regularly drive eastward between 35° and 60° latitude and affects weather in Europe and other continents.
Cyclones and hurricanes created by tropical storms which form near the equator, rush towards the coast and cause tremendous damage.
The Atlantic is saltiest Major Ocean. Larger currents control the flow of water in the Atlantic Ocean. The Gulf Stream after emanating from the Gulf of Mexico takes warm water across the northern Atlantic to the northern and western European coastal regions. The Labrador Current gets cold water from the icy regions along the eastern seaboard of the United States and Canada. The Benguela Current while coming from the Antarctic brings cold water to the West African coastal region.
Tides influence numerous coastal areas. The heights of tides vary in different regions. For example, they are only about half a meter high in the Gulf of Mexico whereas northern Canada experiences most powerful ones, with the difference between high and low tide of up to 15 meters.
The Atlantic Ocean has an immense melange of plant and animal life. The primary plant form in the shelf regions is Plankton, which provides sustenance to fish and other sea animals. Corals prosper in the warm areas such as the Caribbean Sea.
The Ocean hosts almost half of the world’s fishing grounds. Overfishing threatened many fish species in the ocean for numerous years with some facing extinction. The majority of the fish thrive near the coastal shelf areas.
A lot of animals relocate to colder places from the warmer waters of the Atlantic. Whales reside more in the northern areas, especially near Iceland and Greenland.
Pollution of the Atlantic Ocean
One of the primary problems for the world nowadays is pollution, and the Atlantic faces it without exception. The tankers make the significant contribution to this pollution. They clean their oil containers on the high seas causing enormous pollution. The Atlantic has faced a lot of big tanker disasters repeatedly. For example, in 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico, an explosion on an oil platform caused a leakage of oil for more than three months.