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Atlantic Ocean

Physical Geography

Extent and Seas

The Atlantic Ocean extends in an S shape from the arctic to the antarctic regions between North and South America on the west and Europe and Africa on the east. It is connected with the Arctic Ocean by the Greenland Sea and Smith Sound; with the Pacific Ocean by Drake Passage, the Straits of Magellan, and the Panama Canal; and with the Indian Ocean by the Suez Canal and the expanse between Africa and Antarctica. The shortest distance across the Atlantic Ocean (c.1,600 mi/2,575 km) is between SW Senegal, W Africa, and NE Brazil, E South America. The principal arms of the Atlantic Ocean are Hudson and Baffin bays, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea in the west; the Baltic, North, Mediterranean, and Black seas in the east; and the Weddell Sea in the south. More large rivers, including the Mississippi, the Congo, and the Amazon, drain into the Atlantic than into any other ocean.

Islands

The Atlantic has relatively few islands, with the greatest concentration found in the Caribbean region. Most of the islands are structurally part of the continents, such as the British Isles, Falkland Islands, Canary Islands, and Newfoundland. Iceland, the Azores, the islands of Cape Verde, Ascension, the South Sandwich Islands, the West Indies, and Bermuda are exposed tops of submarine ridges. The Bahamas are low coral islands that sit on the Blake Plateau, while the Madeiras are high volcanic islands.

Ocean Floor

The floor of the Atlantic has an average depth of c.12,000 ft (3,660 m). It is separated from that of the Arctic Ocean by a submarine ridge extending from SE Greenland to N Scotland; part of the floor (c.3,000 ft/910 m deep) is known as "telegraph plateau" because of the network of cables laid there. A shallow submarine ridge across the Strait of Gibraltar separates the Mediterranean basin from the Atlantic and limits the exchange of water between the two bodies. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge (c.300–600 mi/480–970 km wide), a submarine mountain range extending c.10,000 mi (16,100 km) from Iceland to near the Antarctic Circle, generally follows the trend of the coastlines of the continents. It rises to an average height of c.10,000 ft (3,050 m), and a few peaks emerge as islands. The ridge, which is the center of volcanic activity and earthquakes, has a great rift that is constantly widening (see seafloor spreading) and filling with molten rock from the earth's interior. As a result the Western Hemisphere and Europe and Africa are moving away from each other. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge divides the floor of the Atlantic Ocean into eastern and western sections that are composed of a series of deep-sea basins (abyssal plains). The greatest depth (c.28,000 ft/8,530 m) is the Milwaukee Deep, in the Puerto Rico Trench, N of Puerto Rico. Scientific knowledge of the ocean floor dates from the Challenger expedition (1872–76).

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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