Ocean is the second largest of the world's oceans with a
total area of about 106,460,000 square kilometers (41,100,000 square
miles). It covers approximately 20 percent of the Earth's
surface and about 29 percent of its water surface area. It separates
the "Old World" from the "New World".
Ocean occupies an elongated, S-shaped basin extending
Eurasia and Africa to the east, and the
Americas to the west. As one component of the interconnected global
ocean, it is connected in the north to the
Arctic Ocean, to the
Ocean in the southwest, the Indian
Ocean in the southeast, and
Southern Ocean in the south (other definitions describe the
Atlantic as extending southward to Antarctica). The Equatorial Counter
Current subdivides it into the North Atlantic
Ocean and the South
Ocean at about 8°N.
Scientific explorations of the Atlantic include the Challenger
expedition, the German Meteor expedition, Columbia University's
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the United States Navy
2 Extent and data
3.1 Mid-Atlantic Ridge
4 Water characteristics
4.2 Water masses
4.4 Sargasso Sea
5.1 Natural hazards
6 Plate tectonics
6.1 Central Atlantic
6.2 Northern Atlantic
6.3 South Atlantic
6.4 Closure of the Atlantic
7.1 Human origin
7.2 Old World
7.3 New World
7.4 Atlantic World
9 Environmental issues
10 See also
12 Further reading
13 External links
Aethiopian Ocean in a 1710 French map of Africa
The oldest known mentions of an "Atlantic" sea come from Stesichorus
around mid-sixth century BC (Sch. A. R. 1. 211): Atlantikoi
pelágei (Greek: Ἀτλαντικῷ πελάγει; English: 'the
Atlantic sea'; etym. 'Sea of Atlantis') and in The Histories of
Herodotus around 450 BC (Hdt. 1.202.4):
Atlantis thalassa (Greek:
Ἀτλαντὶς θάλασσα; English: 'Sea of Atlantis' or 'the
Atlantis sea') where the name refers to "the sea beyond the pillars
of Heracles" which is said to be part of the ocean that surrounds all
land. Thus, on one hand, the name refers to Atlas, the Titan in
Greek mythology, who supported the heavens and who later appeared as a
frontispiece in Medieval maps and also lent his name to modern
atlases. On the other hand, to early Greek sailors and in Ancient
Greek mythological literature such as the
Iliad and the Odyssey, this
all-encompassing ocean was instead known as Oceanus, the gigantic
river that encircled the world; in contrast to the enclosed seas
well-known to the Greeks: the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. In
contrast, the term "Atlantic" originally referred specifically to the
Atlas Mountains in Morocco and the sea off the
Strait of Gibraltar
Strait of Gibraltar and
the North African coast. The Greek word thalassa has been reused by
scientists for the huge
Panthalassa ocean that surrounded the
Pangaea hundreds of million years ago.
The term "Aethiopian Ocean", derived from Ancient Ethiopia, was
applied to the Southern Atlantic as late as the mid-19th century.
During the Age of Discovery, the Atlantic was also known to English
cartographers as the Great Western Ocean.
Extent and data
For complete lists of marginal seas and borders of the Atlantic, see
List of seas
List of seas § Atlantic Ocean, and Borders of the oceans
§ Atlantic Ocean.
For the extent of the Southern Ocean, see Southern Ocean
§ Definitions and use.
Extent of the Atlantic
Ocean according to the 2002 IHO definition,
International Hydrographic Organization
International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) defined the limits
of the oceans and seas in 1953, but some of these definitions have
been revised since then and some are not used by various authorities,
institutions, and countries, see for example the CIA World Factbook.
Correspondingly, the extent and number of oceans and seas varies.
Ocean is bounded on the west by North and South America.
It connects to the
Ocean through the Denmark Strait, Greenland
Norwegian Sea and Barents Sea. To the east, the boundaries of the
ocean proper are Europe: the
Strait of Gibraltar
Strait of Gibraltar (where it connects
with the Mediterranean Sea–one of its marginal seas–and, in turn,
the Black Sea, both of which also touch upon Asia) and Africa.
In the southeast, the Atlantic merges into the Indian Ocean. The 20°
East meridian, running south from
Cape Agulhas to
its border. In the 1953 definition it extends south to Antarctica,
while in later maps it is bounded at the 60° parallel by the Southern
The Atlantic has irregular coasts indented by numerous bays, gulfs,
and seas. These include the Baltic Sea, Black Sea, Caribbean Sea,
Davis Strait, Denmark Strait, part of the Drake Passage, Gulf of
Mexico, Labrador Sea, Mediterranean Sea, North Sea, Norwegian Sea,
almost all of the Scotia Sea, and other tributary water bodies.
Including these marginal seas the coast line of the Atlantic measures
111,866 km (69,510 mi) compared to 135,663 km
(84,297 mi) for the Pacific.
Including its marginal seas, the Atlantic covers an area of
106,460,000 km2 (41,100,000 sq mi) or 23.5% of the
global ocean and has a volume of 310,410,900 km3
(74,471,500 cu mi) or 23.3% of the total volume of the
earth's oceans. Excluding its marginal seas, the Atlantic covers
81,760,000 km2 (31,570,000 sq mi) and has a volume of
305,811,900 km3 (73,368,200 cu mi). The North Atlantic
covers 41,490,000 km2 (16,020,000 sq mi) (11.5%) and
the South Atlantic 40,270,000 km2 (15,550,000 sq mi)
(11.1%). The average depth is 3,646 m (11,962 ft) and the
maximum depth, the
Milwaukee Deep in the Puerto Rico Trench, is
8,486 m (27,841 ft).
False color map of ocean depth in the Atlantic basin
The bathymetry of the Atlantic is dominated by a submarine mountain
range called the
Mid-Atlantic Ridge (MAR). It runs from 87°N or
300 km (190 mi) south of the
North Pole to the subantarctic
Bouvet Island at 42°S.
Main article: Mid-Atlantic Ridge
The MAR divides the Atlantic longitudinally into two halves, in each
of which a series of basins are delimited by secondary, transverse
ridges. The MAR reaches above 2,000 m (6,600 ft) along most
of its length, but is interrupted by larger transform faults at two
Romanche Trench near the Equator and the Gibbs Fracture
Zone at 53°N. The MAR is a barrier for bottom water, but at these two
transform faults deep water currents can pass from one side to the
The MAR rises 2–3 km (1.2–1.9 mi) above the surrounding
ocean floor and its rift valley is the divergent boundary between the
North American and Eurasian plates in the North Atlantic and the South
American and African plates in the South Atlantic. The MAR produces
basaltic volcanoes in Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland, and pillow lava on
the ocean floor. The depth of water at the apex of the ridge is
less than 2,700 m (1,500 fathoms; 8,900 ft) in most places,
while the bottom of the ridge is three times as deep.
The MAR is intersected by two perpendicular ridges: the
Azores–Gibraltar Transform Fault, the boundary between the Nubian
and Eurasian plates, intersects the MAR at the Azores Triple Junction,
on either side of the Azores microplate, near the 40°N. A much
vaguer, nameless boundary, between the North American and South
American plates, intersects the MAR near or just north of the
Fifteen-Twenty Fracture Zone, approximately at 16°N.
In the 1870s, the
Challenger expedition discovered parts of what is
now known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, or:
An elevated ridge rising to an average height of about 1,900
fathoms [3,500 m; 11,400 ft] below the surface
traverses the basins of the North and South Atlantic in a meridianal
direction from Cape Farewell, probably its far south at least as Gough
Island, following roughly the outlines of the coasts of the Old and
the New Worlds.
The remainder of the ridge was discovered in the 1920s by the German
Meteor expedition using echo-sounding equipment. The exploration
of the MAR in the 1950s led to the general acceptance of seafloor
spreading and plate tectonics.
Most of the MAR runs under water but where it reaches the surfaces it
has produced volcanic islands. While nine of these have collectively
been nominated a
World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site for their geological value, four
of them are considered of "Outstanding Universal Value" based on their
cultural and natural criteria: Þingvellir, Iceland; Landscape of the
Pico Island Vineyard Culture, Portugal; Gough and Inaccessible
Islands, United Kingdom; and Brazilian Atlantic Islands: Fernando de
Atol das Rocas Reserves, Brazil.
For a list of fracture zones in the Atlantic, see List of fracture
zones § Atlantic Ocean.
Continental shelves in the Atlantic are wide off Newfoundland,
southern-most South America, and north-eastern Europe. In the western
Atlantic carbonate platforms dominate large areas, for example the
Blake Plateau and
Bermuda Rise. The Atlantic is surrounded by passive
margins except at a few locations where active margins form deep
Puerto Rico Trench
Puerto Rico Trench (8,414 m or 27,605 ft
maximum depth) in the western Pacific and South Sandwich Trench
(8,264 m or 27,113 ft) in the South Atlantic. There are
numerous submarine canyons off north-eastern North America, western
Europe, and north-western Africa. Some of these canyons extend along
the continental rises and farther into the abyssal plains as deep-sea
In 1922 a historic moment in cartography and oceanography occurred.
The USS Stewart used a Navy Sonic Depth Finder to draw a continuous
map across the bed of the Atlantic. This involved little guesswork
because the idea of sonar is straight forward with pulses being sent
from the vessel, which bounce off the ocean floor, then return to the
vessel. The deep ocean floor is thought to be fairly flat with
occasional deeps, abyssal plains, trenches, seamounts, basins,
plateaus, canyons, and some guyots. Various shelves along the margins
of the continents constitute about 11% of the bottom topography with
few deep channels cut across the continental rise.
The mean depth between 60°N and 60°S is 3,730 m
(12,240 ft), or close to the average for the global ocean, with a
modal depth between 4,000 and 5,000 m (13,000 and
In the South Atlantic the
Walvis Ridge and
Rio Grande Rise
Rio Grande Rise form
barriers to ocean currents. The
Laurentian Abyss is found off the
eastern coast of Canada.
Gulf Stream meanders across the North Atlantic from the North
American east coast to Western Europe its temperature drops by
20 °C (36 °F).
Path of the thermohaline circulation. Purple paths represent
deep-water currents, while blue paths represent surface currents.
Surface water temperatures, which vary with latitude, current systems,
and season and reflect the latitudinal distribution of solar energy,
range from below −2 °C (28 °F) to over 30 °C
(86 °F). Maximum temperatures occur north of the equator, and
minimum values are found in the polar regions. In the middle
latitudes, the area of maximum temperature variations, values may vary
by 7–8 °C (13–14 °F).
From October to June the surface is usually covered with sea ice in
the Labrador Sea, Denmark Strait, and Baltic Sea.
Coriolis effect circulates North Atlantic water in a clockwise
direction, whereas South Atlantic water circulates counter-clockwise.
The south tides in the Atlantic
Ocean are semi-diurnal; that is, two
high tides occur during each 24 lunar hours. In latitudes above 40°
North some east-west oscillation, known as the North Atlantic
On average, the Atlantic is the saltiest major ocean; surface water
salinity in the open ocean ranges from 33 to 37 parts per thousand
(3.3 – 3.7%) by mass and varies with latitude and season.
Evaporation, precipitation, river inflow and sea ice melting influence
surface salinity values. Although the lowest salinity values are just
north of the equator (because of heavy tropical rainfall), in general
the lowest values are in the high latitudes and along coasts where
large rivers enter. Maximum salinity values occur at about 25° north
and south, in subtropical regions with low rainfall and high
The high surface salinity in the Atlantic, on which the Atlantic
thermohaline circulation is dependent, is maintained by two processes:
the Agulhas Leakage/Rings, which brings salty Indian
Ocean waters into
the South Atlantic, and the "Atmospheric Bridge", which evaporates
subtropical Atlantic waters and exports it to the Pacific.
Temperature-salinity characteristics for Atlantic water masses
Upper waters (0–500 m or 0–1,600 ft)
Upper Water (ASUW)
Western North Atlantic
Central Water (WNACW)
Eastern North Atlantic
Central Water (ENACW)
Central Water (SACW)
Intermediate waters (500–1,500 m or 1,600–4,900 ft)
Western Atlantic Subarctic
Intermediate Water (WASIW)
Eastern Atlantic Subarctic
Intermediate Water (EASIW)
Mediterranean Water (MW)
Arctic Intermediate Water (AIW)
Deep and abyssal waters (1,500 m–bottom or
Deep Water (NADW)
Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW)
Arctic Bottom Water (ABW)
−1.8 to −0.5 °C
Ocean consists of four major, upper water masses with
distinct temperature and salinity. The Atlantic Subarctic Upper Water
in the northern-most North Atlantic is the source for Subarctic
Intermediate Water and North Atlantic Intermediate Water. North
Atlantic Central Water can be divided into the Eastern and Western
North Atlantic central Water since the western part is strongly
affected by the
Gulf Stream and therefore the upper layer is closer to
underlying fresher subpolar intermediate water. The eastern water is
saltier because of its proximity to Mediterranean Water. North
Atlantic Central Water flows into South Atlantic Central Water at
There are five intermediate waters: four low-salinity waters formed at
subpolar latitudes and one high-salinity formed through evaporation.
Arctic Intermediate Water, flows from north to become the source for
North Atlantic Deep Water
North Atlantic Deep Water south of the Greenland-Scotland sill. These
two intermediate waters have different salinity in the western and
eastern basins. The wide range of salinities in the North Atlantic is
caused by the asymmetry of the northern subtropical gyre and the large
number of contributions from a wide range of sources: Labrador Sea,
Greenland Sea, Mediterranean, and South Atlantic
North Atlantic Deep Water
North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) is a complex of four water
masses, two that form by deep convection in the open ocean —
Classical and Upper
Labrador Sea Water — and two that form from
the inflow of dense water across the Greenland-Iceland-Scotland
Denmark Strait and Iceland-Scotland Overflow Water.
Along its path across
Earth the composition of the NADW is affected by
other water masses, especially
Antarctic Bottom Water and
Mediterranean Overflow Water. The NADW is fed by a flow of warm
shallow water into the northern North Atlantic which is responsible
for the anomalous warm climate in Europe. Changes in the formation of
NADW have been linked to global climate changes in the past. Since
man-made substances were introduced into the environment, the path of
the NADW can be traced throughout its course by measuring tritium and
radiocarbon from nuclear weapon tests in the 1960s and CFCs.
Map of the five major ocean gyres
The clockwise warm-water
North Atlantic Gyre
North Atlantic Gyre occupies the northern
Atlantic, and the counter-clockwise warm-water South Atlantic Gyre
appears in the southern Atlantic.
In the North Atlantic, surface circulation is dominated by three
inter-connected currents: the
Gulf Stream which flows north-east from
the North American coast at Cape Hatteras; the North Atlantic Current,
a branch of the
Gulf Stream which flows northward from the Grand
Banks; and the Subpolar Front, an extension of the North Atlantic
Current, a wide, vaguely defined region separating the subtropical
gyre from the subpolar gyre. This system of currents transport warm
water into the North Atlantic, without which temperatures in the North
Atlantic and Europe would plunge dramatically.
In the subpolar gyre of the North Atlantic warm subtropical waters are
transformed into colder subpolar and polar waters. In the Labrador Sea
this water flows back to the subtropical gyre.
North of the North Atlantic Gyre, the cyclonic North Atlantic Subpolar
Gyre plays a key role in climate variability. It is governed by ocean
currents from marginal seas and regional topography, rather than being
steered by wind, both in the deep ocean and at sea level. The
subpolar gyre forms an important part of the global thermohaline
circulation. Its eastern portion includes eddying branches of the
North Atlantic Current
North Atlantic Current which transport warm, saline waters from the
subtropics to the north-eastern Atlantic. There this water is cooled
during winter and forms return currents that merge along the eastern
continental slope of
Greenland where they form an intense
(40–50 Sv) current which flows around the continental margins
of the Labrador Sea. A third of this water become parts of the deep
portion of the
North Atlantic Deep Water
North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW). The NADW, in its
turn, feed the meridional overturning circulation (MOC), the northward
heat transport of which is threatened by anthropogenic climate change.
Large variations in the subpolar gyre on a decade-century scale,
associated with the North Atlantic oscillation, are especially
Labrador Sea Water, the upper layers of the MOC.
The South Atlantic is dominated by the anti-cyclonic southern
subtropical gyre. The South Atlantic Central Water originates in this
Antarctic Intermediate Water originates in the upper
layers of the circumpolar region, near the
Drake Passage and Falkland
Islands. Both these currents receive some contribution from the Indian
Ocean. On the African east coast the small cyclonic Angola Gyre lies
embedded in the large subtropical gyre. The southern subtropical
gyre is partly masked by a wind-induced Ekman layer. The residence
time of the gyre is 4.4–8.5 years. North Atlantic Deep Water
flows southerward below the thermocline of the subtropical gyre.
Main article: Sargasso Sea
Approximate extent of the Sargasso Sea
Sargasso Sea in the western North Atlantic can be defined as the
area where two species of
Sargassum (S. fluitans and natans) float, an
area 4,000 km (2,500 mi) wide and encircled by the Gulf
Stream, North Atlantic Drift, and North Equatorial Current. This
population of seaweed probably originated from Tertiary ancestors on
the European shores of the former
Tethys Ocean and has, if so,
maintained itself by vegetative growth, floating in the ocean for
millions of years.
Sargassum fish (Histrio histrio)
Other species endemic to the
Sargasso Sea include the sargassum fish,
a predator with algae-like appendages who hovers motionless among the
Sargassum. Fossils of similar fishes have been found in fossil bays of
the former Tethys Ocean, in what is now the Carpathian region, that
were similar to the Sargasso Sea. It is possible that the population
Sargasso Sea migrated to the Atlantic as the Tethys closed at
the end of the Miocene around 17 Ma. The origin of the
Sargasso fauna and flora remained enigmatic for centuries. The fossils
found in the Carpathians in the mid-20th century, often called the
"quasi-Sargasso assemblage", finally showed that this assemblage
originated in the
Carpathian Basin from were it migrated over Sicily
to the Central Atlantic where it evolved into modern species of the
The location of the spawning ground for European eels remained unknown
for decades. In the early 19th century it was discovered that the
Sargasso Sea is the spawning ground for both the European and
American eel and that the former migrate more than 5,000 km
(3,100 mi) and the latter 2,000 km (1,200 mi). Ocean
currents such as the
Gulf Stream transport eel larvae from the
Sargasso Sea to foraging areas in North America, Europe, and Northern
Africa. Recent but disputed research suggests that eels possibly
Earth's magnetic field
Earth's magnetic field to navigate through the ocean both as
larvae and as adults.
Waves in the trade winds in the Atlantic Ocean—areas of converging
winds that move along the same track as the prevailing wind—create
instabilities in the atmosphere that may lead to the formation of
Climate is influenced by the temperatures of the surface waters and
water currents as well as winds. Because of the ocean's great capacity
to store and release heat, maritime climates are more moderate and
have less extreme seasonal variations than inland climates.
Precipitation can be approximated from coastal weather data and air
temperature from water temperatures.
The oceans are the major source of the atmospheric moisture that is
obtained through evaporation. Climatic zones vary with latitude; the
warmest zones stretch across the Atlantic north of the equator. The
coldest zones are in high latitudes, with the coldest regions
corresponding to the areas covered by sea ice.
influence climate by transporting warm and cold waters to other
regions. The winds that are cooled or warmed when blowing over these
currents influence adjacent land areas.
Gulf Stream and its northern extension towards Europe, the North
Atlantic Drift is thought to have at least some influence on climate.
For example, the
Gulf Stream helps moderate winter temperatures along
the coastline of southeastern North America, keeping it warmer in
winter along the coast than inland areas. The
Gulf Stream also keeps
extreme temperatures from occurring on the Florida Peninsula. In the
higher latitudes, the North Atlantic Drift, warms the atmosphere over
the oceans, keeping the British Isles and north-western Europe mild
and cloudy, and not severely cold in winter like other locations at
the same high latitude. The cold water currents contribute to heavy
fog off the coast of eastern Canada (the Grand Banks of Newfoundland
area) and Africa's north-western coast. In general, winds transport
moisture and air over land areas.
Iceberg A22A in the South Atlantic Ocean
Icebergs are common from February to August in the Davis Strait,
Denmark Strait, and the northwestern Atlantic and have been spotted as
far south as
Bermuda and Madeira. Ships are subject to superstructure
icing in the extreme north from October to May. Persistent fog can be
a maritime hazard from May to September, as can hurricanes north of
the equator (May to December).
The United States' southeast coast, especially the Virginia and North
Carolina coasts, has a long history of shipwrecks due to its many
shoals and reefs.
Bermuda Triangle is popularly believed to be the site of numerous
aviation and shipping incidents because of unexplained and supposedly
mysterious causes, but
Coast Guard records do not support this belief.
Hurricanes are also a natural hazard in the Atlantic, but mainly in
the northern part of the ocean, rarely tropical cyclones form in the
Hurricanes usually form annually between June and
The break-up of
Pangaea resulted in the opening of the Atlantic Ocean
in three stages
Opening of the Central Atlantic 200-170 Ma
The break-up of
Pangaea began in the Central Atlantic, between North
America and Northwest Africa, where rift basins opened during the Late
Triassic and Early Jurassic. This period also saw the first stages of
the uplift of the Atlas Mountains. The exact timing is controversial
with estimates ranging from 200 to 170 Ma.
The opening of the Atlantic
Ocean coincided with the initial break-up
of the supercontinent Pangaea, both of which were initiated by the
eruption of the
Central Atlantic Magmatic Province
Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP), one of the
most extensive and voluminous large igneous provinces in Earth's
history associated with the Triassic–Jurassic extinction event, one
of Earth's major extinction events. Theoliitic dikes, sills, and
lava flows from the CAMP eruption at 200 Ma have been found in
West Africa, eastern North America, and northern South America. The
extent of the volcanism has been estimated to 4.5×106 km2
(1.7×106 sq mi) of which 2.5×106 km2
(9.7×105 sq mi) covered what is now northern and central
The formation of the
Central American Isthmus
Central American Isthmus closed the Central
American Seaway at the end of the Pliocene 2.8 Ma ago. The
formation of the isthmus resulted in the migration and extinction of
many land-living animals, known as the Great American Interchange, but
the closure of the seaway resulted in a "Great American Schism" as it
affected ocean currents, salinity, and temperatures in both the
Atlantic and Pacific. Marine organisms on both sides of the isthmus
became isolated and either diverged or went extinct.
Main article: Opening of the North Atlantic Ocean
Geologically the Northern Atlantic is the area delimited to the south
by two conjugate margins, Newfoundland and Iberia, and to the north by
Arctic Eurasian Basin. The opening of the Northern Atlantic
closely followed the margins of its predecessor, the Iapetus Ocean,
and spread from the Central Atlantic in six stages:
Iberia–Newfoundland, Porcupine–North America, Eurasia–Greenland,
Eurasia–North America. Active and inactive spreading systems in this
area are marked by the interaction with the
The opening of the South Atlantic
West Gondwana (South America and Africa) broke up in the Early
Cretaceous to form the South Atlantic. The apparent fit between the
coastlines of the two continents was noted on the first maps that
included the South Atlantic and it was also the subject of the first
computer-assisted plate tectonic reconstructions in 1965. This
magnificent fit, however, has since then proven problematic and later
reconstructions have introduced various deformation zones along the
shorelines to accommodate the northward-propagating break-up.
Intra-continental rifts and deformations have also been introduced to
subdivide both continental plates into sub-plates.
Geologically the South Atlantic can be divided into four segments:
Equatorial segment, from 10°N to the Romanche Fracture Zone (RFZ);;
Central segment, from RFZ to Florianopolis Fracture Zone (FFZ, north
Walvis Ridge and Rio Grande Rise); Southern segment, from FFZ to
the Agulhas-Falkland Fracture Zone (AFFZ); and Falkland segment, south
In the southern segment the Early Cretaceous (133–130 Ma)
intensive magmatism of the Paraná–Etendeka Large Igneous Province
produced by the
Tristan hotspot resulted in an estimated volume of
1.5×106 to 2.0×106 km3 (3.6×105 to 4.8×105 cu mi).
It covered an area of 1.2×106 to 1.6×106 km2 (4.6×105 to
6.2×105 sq mi) in Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay and
0.8×105 km2 (3.1×104 sq mi) in Africa. Dyke swarms in
Brazil, Angola, eastern Paraguay, and Namibia, however, suggest the
LIP originally covered a much larger area and also indicate failed
rifts in all these areas. Associated offshore basaltic flows reach as
far south as the Falkland Islands and South Africa. Traces of
magmatism in both offshore and onshore basins in the central and
southern segments have been dated to 147–49 Ma with two peaks
between 143–121 Ma and 90–60 Ma.
In the Falkland segment rifting began with dextral movements between
the Patagonia and Colorado sub-plates between the Early Jurassic
(190 Ma) and the Early Cretaceous (126.7 Ma). Around
150 Ma sea-floor spreading propagated northward into the southern
segment. No later than 130 Ma rifting had reached the Walvis
Ridge–Rio Grande Rise.
In the central segment rifting started to break Africa in two by
Benue Trough around 118 Ma. Rifting in the central
segment, however, coincided with the Cretaceous Normal Superchron
(also known as the Cretaceous quiet period), a 40 Ma period
without magnetic reversals, which makes it difficult to date sea-floor
spreading in this segment.
The equatorial segment is the last phase of the break-up, but, because
it is located on the Equator, magnetic anomalies cannot be used for
dating. Various estimates date the propagation of sea-floor spreading
in this segment to the period 120–96 Ma. This final stage,
nevertheless, coincided with or resulted in the end of continental
extension in Africa.
About 50 Ma the opening of the
Drake Passage resulted from a
change in the motions and separation rate of the South American and
Antarctic plates. First small ocean basins opened and a shallow
gateway appeared during the Middle Eocene. 34–30 Ma a deeper
seaway developed, followed by an Eocene–Oligocene climatic
deterioration and the growth of the
Antarctic ice sheet.
Closure of the Atlantic
An embryonic subduction margin is potentially developing west of
Gibraltar Arc in the western Mediterranean is migrating
westward into the Central Atlantic where it joins the converging
African and Eurasian plates. Together these three tectonic forces are
slowly developing into a new subduction system in the eastern Atlantic
Basin. Meanwhile, the
Scotia Arc and
Caribbean Plate in the western
Atlantic Basin are eastward-propagating subduction systems that might,
together with the Gibraltar system, represent the beginning of the
closure of the Atlantic
Ocean and the final stage of the Atlantic
Main category: History of the Atlantic Ocean
Humans evolved in Africa; first by diverging from other apes around
7 Ma; then developing stone tools around 2.6 Ma; to finally
evolve as modern humans around 100 kya. The earliest evidences
for the complex behavior associated with this behavioral modernity has
been found in the Greater
Cape Floristic Region
Cape Floristic Region (GCFR) along the coast
of South Africa. During the latest glacial stages the now-submerged
plains of the
Agulhas Bank were exposed above sea level, extending the
South African coastline farther south by hundreds of kilometers. A
small population of modern humans — probably fewer than a
thousand reproducing individuals — survived glacial maxima by
exploring the high diversity offered by these Palaeo-Agulhas plains.
The GCFR is delimited to the north by the
Cape Fold Belt
Cape Fold Belt and the
limited space south of it resulted in the development of social
networks out of which complex Stone Age technologies emerged.
Human history thus begins on the coasts of South Africa where the
Atlantic Benguela Upwelling and Indian
Agulhas Current meet to
produce an intertidal zone on which shellfish, fur seal, fishes and
sea birds provided the necessary protein sources. The African
origin of this modern behaviour is evidenced by 70,000 years-old
engravings from Blombos Cave, South Africa.
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) studies indicate that 80–60,000 years ago
a major demographic expansion within Africa, derived from a single,
small population, coincided with the emergence of behavioral
complexity and the rapid MIS 5–4 environmental changes. This
group of people not only expanded over the whole of Africa, but also
started to disperse out of Africa into Asia, Europe, and Australasia
around 65,000 years ago and quickly replaced the archaic humans in
these regions. During the
Last Glacial Maximum
Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) 20,000 years
ago humans had to abandon their initial settlements along the European
North Atlantic coast and retreat to the Mediterranean. Following rapid
climate changes at the end of the LGM this region was repopulated by
Magdalenian culture. Other hunter-gatherers followed in waves
interrupted by large-scale hazards such as the
Laacher See volcanic
eruption, the inundation of
Doggerland (now the North Sea), and the
formation of the Baltic Sea. The European coasts of the North
Atlantic were permanently populated about 9–8.5 thousand years
This human dispersal left abundant traces along the coasts of the
Atlantic Ocean. 50 ka-old, deeply stratified shell middens found
in Ysterfontein on the western coast of South Africa are associated
with the Middle Stone Age (MSA). The MSA population was small and
dispersed and the rate of their reproduction and exploitation was less
intense than those of later generations. While their middens resemble
12–11 ka-old Late Stone Age (LSA) middens found on every
inhabited continent, the 50–45 ka-old
Enkapune Ya Muto
Enkapune Ya Muto in Kenya
probably represents the oldest traces of the first modern humans to
disperse out of Africa.
Excavation of the Ertebølle middens in 1880
The same development can be seen in Europe. In La Riera Cave
(23–13 ka) in Asturias, Spain, only some 26,600 molluscs were
deposited over 10 ka. In contrast, 8–7 ka-old shell
middens in Portugal, Denmark, and Brazil generated thousands of tons
of debris and artefacts. The Ertebølle middens in Denmark, for
example, accumulated 2,000 m3 (71,000 cu ft) of shell
deposits representing some 50 million molluscs over only a thousand
years. This intensification in the exploitation of marine resources
has been described as accompanied by new technologies — such as
boats, harpoons, and fish-hooks — because many caves found in
the Mediterranean and on the European Atlantic coast have increased
quantities of marine shells in their upper levels and reduced
quantities in their lower. The earliest exploitation, however, took
place on the now submerged shelves, and most settlements now excavated
were then located several kilometers from these shelves. The reduced
quantities of shells in the lower levels can represent the few shells
that were exported inland.
During the LGM the
Laurentide Ice Sheet
Laurentide Ice Sheet covered most of northern North
Beringia connected Siberia to Alaska. In 1973 late U.S.
Paul S. Martin
Paul S. Martin proposed a "blitzkrieg" colonization of
America by which Clovis hunters migrated into North America around
13,000 years ago in a single wave through an ice-free corridor in the
ice sheet and "spread southward explosively, briefly attaining a
density sufficiently large to overkill much of their prey." Others
later proposed a "three-wave" migration over the Bering Land
Bridge. These hypotheses remained the long-held view regarding the
settlement of the Americas, a view challenged by more recent
archaeological discoveries: the oldest archaeological sites in the
Americas have been found in South America; sites in north-east Siberia
report virtually no human presence there during the LGM; and most
Clovis artefacts have been found in eastern North America along the
Atlantic coast. Furthermore, colonisation models based on mtDNA,
yDNA, and atDNA data respectively support neither the "blitzkrieg" nor
the "three-wave" hypotheses but they also deliver mutually ambiguous
results. Contradictory data from archaeology and genetics will most
likely deliver future hypotheses that will, eventually, confirm each
other. A proposed route across the Pacific to South America could
explain early South American finds and another hypothesis proposes a
northern path, through the Canadian
Arctic and down the North American
Atlantic coast. Early settlements across the Atlantic have been
suggested by alternative theories, ranging from purely hypothetical to
mostly disputed, including the
Solutrean hypothesis and some of the
Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact theories.
Based on the medieval Íslendingasögur sagas, including the
Grœnlendinga saga, this interpretative map of the "Norse World" shows
that Norse knowledge of America and the Atlantic remained limited.
The Norse settlement of the
Faroe Islands and
Iceland began during the
9th and 10th centuries. A settlement on
Greenland was established
before 1000 CE, but contact with it was lost in 1409 and it was
finally abandoned during the early Little Ice Age. This setback was
caused by a range of factors: an unsustainable economy resulted in
erosion and denudation, while conflicts with the local
in the failure to adapt their
Arctic technologies; a colder climate
resulted in starvation; and the colony got economically marginalized
Great Plague and
Barbary pirates harvested its victims on
Iceland in the 15th century.
Iceland was initially settled
865–930 CE following a warm period when winter temperatures
hovered around 2 °C (36 °F) which made farming favorable
at high latitudes. This did not last, however, and temperatures
quickly dropped; at 1080 CE summer temperatures had reached a
maximum of 5 °C (41 °F). The
Settlement) records disastrous famines during the first century of
settlement — "men ate foxes and ravens" and "the old and
helpless were killed and thrown over cliffs" — and by the early
1200s hay had to be abandoned for short-season crops such as
See also: Brendan § Possible link to North America
Atlantic world and Atlantic history
A century after Columbus' first voyage, large parts of the New World
had been included into the Spanish Empire.
Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492 under Spanish
flag. Six years later
Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama reached India under Portuguese
flag, by navigating south around the Cape of Good Hope, thus proving
that the Atlantic and Indian Oceans are connected. In 1500, in his
voyage to India following Vasco da Gama,
Pedro Alvares Cabral
Pedro Alvares Cabral reached
Brazil, taken by the currents of the South Atlantic Gyre. Following
these explorations, Spain and Portugal quickly conquered and colonized
large territories in the
New World and forced the Native American
population into slavery in order to explore the vast quantities of
silver and gold they found. Spain and Portugal monopolized this trade
in order to keep other European nations out, but conflicting interests
nevertheless led to a series of Spanish-Portuguese wars. A peace
treaty mediated by the Pope divided the conquered territories into
Spanish and Portuguese sectors while keeping other colonial powers
away. England, France, and the Dutch Republic enviously watched the
Spanish and Portuguese wealth grow and allied themselves with pirates
Henry Mainwaring and Alexandre Exquemelin. They could explore
the convoys leaving America because prevailing winds and currents made
the transport of heavy metals slow and predictable.
Embarked and disembarked slaves in the Atlantic slave trade
1525–1863 (first and last slave voyages)
In the American colonies depredation, disease, and slavery quickly
reduced the indigenous American population to the extent that the
Atlantic slave trade
Atlantic slave trade had to be introduced to replace them — a
trade that became norm and an integral part of the colonization.
Between the 15th century and 1888, when Brazil became the last part of
America to end slave trade, an estimated ten million Africans were
exported as slaves, most of them destined for agricultural labour. The
slave trade was officially abolished in the British Empire and the
United States in 1808, and slavery itself was abolished in the British
Empire in 1838 and in the U.S. in 1865 after the Civil War.
From Columbus to the
Industrial Revolution Trans-Atlantic trade,
including colonialism and slavery, became crucial for Western Europe.
For European countries with a direct access to the Atlantic (including
Britain, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain) 1500–1800 was
a period of sustained growth during which these countries grew richer
than those in Eastern Europe and Asia. Colonialism evolved as part of
the Trans-Atlantic trade, but this trade also strengthened the
position of merchant groups at the expense of monarchs. Growth was
more rapid in non-absolutist countries, such as Britain and the
Netherlands, and more limited in absolutist monarchies, such as
Portugal, Spain, and France, where profit mostly or exclusively
benefited the monarchy and its allies.
Trans-Atlantic trade also resulted in an increasing urbanization: in
European countries facing the Atlantic urbanization grew from 8% in
1300, 10.1% in 1500, to 24.5% in 1850; in other European countries
from 10% in 1300, 11.4% in 1500, to 17% in 1850. Likewise, GDP doubled
in Atlantic countries but rose by only 30% in the rest of Europe. By
end of the 17th century the volume of the Trans-Atlantic trade had
surpassed that of the Mediterranean trade.
See also: List of notable crossings of the Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic has contributed significantly to the development and
economy of surrounding countries. Besides major transatlantic
transportation and communication routes, the Atlantic offers abundant
petroleum deposits in the sedimentary rocks of the continental
The Atlantic harbors petroleum and gas fields, fish, marine mammals
(seals and whales), sand and gravel aggregates, placer deposits,
polymetallic nodules, and precious stones. Gold deposits are a
mile or two under water on the ocean floor, however the deposits are
also encased in rock that must be mined through. Currently, there is
no cost-effective way to mine or extract gold from the ocean to make a
Various international treaties attempt to reduce pollution caused by
environmental threats such as oil spills, marine debris, and the
incineration of toxic wastes at sea.
The shelves of the Atlantic hosts one of the world's richest fishing
resources. The most productive areas include the Grand Banks of
Newfoundland, the Scotian Shelf,
Georges Bank off Cape Cod, the Bahama
Banks, the waters around Iceland, the Irish Sea, the Bay of Fundy, the
Dogger Bank of the North Sea, and the Falkland Banks. Fisheries
have, however, undergone significant changes since the 1950s and
global catches can now be divided into three groups of which only two
are observed in the Atlantic: fisheries in the Eastern Central and
South-West Atlantic oscillate around a globally stable value, the rest
of the Atlantic is in overall decline following historical peaks. The
third group, "continuously increasing trend since 1950", is only found
in the Indian
Ocean and Western Pacific.
Banks of the North-East Atlantic
In the North-East Atlantic total catches decreased between the
mid-1970s and the 1990s and reached 8.7 million tons in 2013. Blue
whiting reached a 2.4 million tons peak in 2004 but was down to
628,000 tons in 2013. Recovery plans for cod, sole, and plaice have
reduced mortality in these species.
Arctic cod reached its lowest
levels in the 1960s–1980s but is now recovered.
Arctic saithe and
haddock are considered fully fished;
Sand eel is overfished as was
capelin which has now recovered to fully fished. Limited data makes
the state of redfishes and deep-water species difficult to assess but
most likely they remain vulnerable to overfishing. Stocks of northern
Norwegian lobster are in good condition. In the North-East
Atlantic 21% of stocks are considered overfished.
Banks of the North-West Atlantic
In the North-West Atlantic landings have decreased from 4.2 million
tons in the early 1970s to 1.9 million tons in 2013. During the 21th
century some species have shown weak signs of recovery, including
Greenland halibut, yellowtail flounder, Atlantic halibut, haddock,
spiny dogfish, while other stocks shown no such signs, including cod,
witch flounder, and redfish. Stocks of invertebrates, in contrast,
remain at record levels of abundance. 31% of stocks are overfished in
the North-west Atlantic.
Capture of Atlantic north-west cod in million tons
John Cabot became the first to explore mainland North America
and one of his major discoveries was the abundant resources of
Atlantic cod off Newfoundland. Referred to as "Newfoundland Currency"
this discovery supplied mankind with some 200 million tons of
fish over five centuries. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries
new fisheries started to exploit haddock, mackerel, and lobster. From
the 1950s to the 1970s the introduction of European and Asian
distant-water fleets in the area dramatically increased the fishing
capacity and number of exploited species. It also expanded the
exploited areas from near-shore to the open sea and to great depths to
include deep-water species such as redfish,
Greenland halibut, witch
flounder, and grenadiers.
Overfishing in the area was recognised as
early as the 1960s but, because this was occurring on international
waters, it took until the late 1970s before any attempts to regulate
was made. In the early 1990s this finally resulted in the collapse of
the Atlantic northwest cod fishery. The population of a number of
deep-sea fishes also collapsed in the process, including American
plaice, redfish, and
Greenland halibut, together with flounder and
In the Eastern Central Atlantic small pelagic fishes constitute about
50% of landings with sardine reaching 0.6–1.0 million tons per year.
Pelagic fish stocks are considered fully fishes or overfished, with
sardines south of
Cape Bojador the notable exception. Almost half of
stocks are fished at biologically unsustainable levels. Total catches
have been fluctuating since the 1970s; reaching 3.9 million tons in
2013 or slightly less than the peak production in 2010.
In the Western Central Atlantic catches have been decreasing since
2000 and reached 1.3 million tons in 2013. The most important species
in the area, Gulf menhaden, reached a million tons in the mid-1980s
but only half a million tons in 2013 and is now considered fully
Round sardinella was an important species in the 1990s but is
now considered overfished. Groupers and snappers are overfished and
northern brown shrimp and American cupped oyster are considered fully
fished approaching overfished. 44% of stocks are being fished at
In the South-East Atlantic catches have decreased from 3.3 million
tons in the early 1970s to 1.3 million tons in 2013. Horse mackerel
and hake are the most important species, together representing almost
half of the landings. Off South Africa and Namibia deep-water hake and
shallow-water Cape hake have recovered to sustainable levels since
regulations were introduced in 2006 and the states of Southern African
pilchard and anchovy have improved to fully fished in 2013.
In the South-West Atlantic a peak was reached in the mid-1980s and
catches now fluctuate between 1.7 and 2.6 million tons. The most
important species, the Argentine shortfin squid, which reached half a
million tons in 2013 or half the peak value, is considered fully
fished to overfished. Another important species was the Brazilian
sardinella, with a production of 100,000 tons in 2013 it is now
considered overfished. Half the stocks in this area are being fished
at unsustainable levels: Whitehead’s round herring has not yet
reached fully fished but
Cunene horse mackerel
Cunene horse mackerel is overfished. The sea
snail perlemoen abalone is targeted by illegal fishing and remain
Ocean fisheries § Atlantic Ocean, and Fishing down the
Marine debris strewn over the beaches of the South Atlantic
Endangered marine species include the manatee, seals, sea lions,
turtles, and whales.
Drift net fishing can kill dolphins, albatrosses
and other seabirds (petrels, auks), hastening the fish stock decline
and contributing to international disputes. Municipal pollution
comes from the eastern United States, southern Brazil, and eastern
Argentina; oil pollution in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, Lake
Maracaibo, Mediterranean Sea, and North Sea; and industrial waste and
municipal sewage pollution in the Baltic Sea, North Sea, and
North Atlantic hurricane activity has increased over past decades
because of increased sea surface temperature (SST) at tropical
latitudes, changes that can be attributed to either the natural
Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation
Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) or to anthropogenic climate
change. A 2005 report indicated that the Atlantic meridional
overturning circulation (AMOC) slowed down by 30% between 1957 and
2004. If the AMO were responsible for SST variability, the AMOC
would have increased in strength, which is apparently not the case.
Furthermore, it is clear from statistical analyses of annual tropical
cyclones that these changes do not display multidecadal cyclicity.
Therefore, these changes in SST must be caused by human
The ocean mixed layer plays an important role heat storage over
seasonal and decadal time-scales, whereas deeper layers are affected
over millennia and has a heat capacity about 50 times that of the
mixed layer. This heat uptake provides a time-lag for climate change
but it also results in a thermal expansion of the oceans which
contribute to sea-level rise. 21st century global warming will
probably result in an equilibrium sea-level rise five times greater
than today, whilst melting of glaciers, including that of the
Greenland ice-sheet, expected to have virtually no effect during the
21st century, will probably result in a sea-level rise of 3–6 m
over a millennium.
On 7 June 2006, Florida's wildlife commission voted to take the
manatee off the state's endangered species list. Some
environmentalists worry that this could erode safeguards for the
popular sea creature.
Marine pollution is a generic term for the entry into the ocean of
potentially hazardous chemicals or particles. The biggest culprits are
rivers and with them many agriculture fertilizer chemicals as well as
livestock and human waste. The excess of oxygen-depleting chemicals
leads to hypoxia and the creation of a dead zone.
Marine debris, which is also known as marine litter, describes
human-created waste floating in a body of water. Oceanic debris tends
to accumulate at the center of gyres and coastlines, frequently
washing aground where it is known as beach litter.
Environmental impact of shipping
Environmental impact of shipping and Shutdown of
List of countries and territories bordering the Atlantic Ocean
Gulf Stream shutdown
Shipwrecks in the Atlantic Ocean
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