Atlantic Ocean Geography

excerpted from: THE WORLD FACTBOOK 1994, ELECTRONIC VERSION produced by the Central Intelligence Agency.


Location: body of water between the Western Hemisphere and Europe/Africa

Map references: Africa, Antarctic Region, Arctic Region, Central America and the Caribbean, Europe, North America, South America, Standard Time Zones of the World

total area 82.217 million sq km
comparative area slightly less than nine times the size of the US; second-largest of the world's four oceans (after the Pacific Ocean, but larger than Indian Ocean or Arctic Ocean)
note includes Baltic Sea, Black Sea, Caribbean Sea, Davis Strait, Denmark Strait, Drake Passage, Gulf of Mexico, Mediterranean Sea, North Sea, Norwegian Sea, Scotia Sea, Weddell Sea, and other tributary water bodies

Coastline: 111,866 km

International disputes: some maritime disputes (see littoral states)

Climate: tropical cyclones (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

Terrain: surface usually covered with sea ice in Labrador Sea, Denmark Strait, and Baltic Sea from October to June; clockwise warm water gyre (broad, circular system of currents) in the north Atlantic, counterclockwise warm water gyre in the south Atlantic; the ocean floor is dominated by the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a rugged north-south centerline for the entire Atlantic basin; maximum depth is 8,605 meters in the Puerto Rico Trench

Natural resources: oil and gas fields, fish, marine mammals (seals and whales), sand and gravel aggregates, placer deposits, polymetallic nodules, precious stones

current issues endangered marine species include the manatee, seals, sea lions, turtles, and whales; municipal sludge pollution off eastern US, southern Brazil, and eastern Argentina; oil pollution in Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, Lake Maracaibo, Mediterranean Sea, and North Sea; industrial waste and municipal sewage pollution in Baltic Sea, North Sea, and Mediterranean Sea
natural hazards icebergs common in Davis Strait, Denmark Strait, and the northwestern Atlantic Ocean from February to August and have been spotted as far south as Bermuda and the Madeira Islands; icebergs from Antarctica occur in the extreme southern Atlantic Ocean
international agreements NA

Note: ships subject to superstructure icing in extreme north Atlantic from October to May and extreme south Atlantic from May to October; persistent fog can be a hazard to shipping from May to September; major choke points include the Dardanelles, Strait of Gibraltar, access to the Panama and Suez Canals; strategic straits include the Strait of Dover, Straits of Florida, Mona Passage, The Sound (Oresund), and Windward Passage; north Atlantic shipping lanes subject to icebergs from February to August; the Equator divides the Atlantic Ocean into the North Atlantic Ocean and South Atlantic Ocean


Digraph: ZH


Overview: The Atlantic Ocean provides some of the world's most heavily trafficked sea routes, between and within the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. Other economic activity includes the exploitation of natural resources, e.g., fishing, the dredging of aragonite sands (The Bahamas), and production of crude oil and natural gas (Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and North Sea).


Ports: Alexandria (Egypt), Algiers (Algeria), Antwerp (Belgium), Barcelona (Spain), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Casablanca (Morocco), Colon (Panama), Copenhagen (Denmark), Dakar (Senegal), Gdansk (Poland), Hamburg (Germany), Helsinki (Finland), Las Palmas (Canary Islands, Spain), Le Havre (France), Lisbon (Portugal), London (UK), Marseille (France), Montevideo (Uruguay), Montreal (Canada), Naples (Italy), New Orleans (US), New York (US), Oran (Algeria), Oslo (Norway), Piraeus (Greece), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Rotterdam (Netherlands), Saint Petersburg (formerly Leningrad; Russia), Stockholm (Sweden)

Telecommunications: numerous submarine cables with most between continental Europe and the UK, North America and the UK, and in the Mediterranean; numerous direct links across Atlantic via INTELSAT satellite network

Note: Kiel Canal and Saint Lawrence Seaway are two important waterways

Ocean Planet Exhibition Floorplan

gene carl feldman ( (301) 286-9428
Judith Gradwohl, Smithsonian Institution (Curator/Ocean Planet)