The four Main Oceans

There are four oceans in the world: the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Indian, and the Arctic.

The Atlantic Ocean:

The North Atlantic Ocean separates the east coast of North America from Western Europe and north-western Africa.  The South Atlantic separates west, west-central, and south-western Africa from the east coast of South America. 

Smaller bodies of water that are connected to the Atlantic Ocean include the Mediterranean Sea, the Strait of Gibraltar, the Bosphorus and Dasdanelles straits, the Black Sea, the Adriatic Sea, the Aegean Sea the Baltic Sea, the Gulf of Bothnia, the Gulf of Finland, the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea, the English Channel, the Irish Sea, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and Hudson’s Bay.

Several major river systems drain into the Atlantic Ocean, including the Amazon and Parana rivers in South America, the Mississippi, Rio Grande, and St. Lawrence rivers in North America, the Danube, Dnieper, Rhine, Loire, and Thames in Europe, the Niger and Senegal rivers in West Africa, the Congo in West-Central Africa, and the Nile in eastern Africa.  The Nile and Amazon rivers are the longest in the world. 

The Dnieper and Danube rivers drain into the Black Sea, which is connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Bosphorus and Dasdanelles straits and the Mediterranean Sea.  The Mississippi River and Rio Grande drain into the Gulf of Mexio, which is connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Caribbean Sea.

Important islands in the Atlantic Ocean include the British Isles (Great Britain and Ireland), Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, and the Caribbean Islands (including Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, the Bahamas, and Barbados).  Islands in the Mediterranean Sea include Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica, which lie off the west coast of Italy, the Balearic Islands off the east coast of  Spain, and Crete and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean.  Other islands and island groups in the Atlantic Ocean include Bermuda, Madeira, the Canary Islands, the Cape Verde Islands, Sao Tomé, Principe, St. Helena, and the Falkland Islands.

The Pacific Ocean:

The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world.  It lies between eastern Asia and Australasian (or Oceania), and the Americas.  The closest point between the two continents is the Bering Strait, between Alaska and eastern Siberia.

Smaller bodies of water connected to the Pacific Ocean include the Bering Sea, the Bering Strait, the Gulf of California, the Gulf of Panama, the Sea of Okhotsk, the Sea of Japan, the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea, the Philippine Sea, the South China Sea, the Coral Sea, and the Tasman Sea.

River systems that drain into the Pacific Ocean include the Yangtze and Yellow rivers in China, the Amur River in Siberia, the Mekong in Southeast Asia, and the Colorado, Fraser, Columbia, and Sacramento-San Joaquin rivers in North America.

Larger islands and island groups in the Pacific include the island-continent of Australia, Tasmania, the Philippines, the Japanese islands, Taiwan, the Aleutian Islands, New Guinea, New Zealand, and the Indonesian islands (including Borneo). 

Several smaller islands and island groups are scattered across the Pacific.  These include the Solomon Islands near New Guinea, the Hawaiian Islands, Samoa, the Carolina Islands, the Tuamotu Archipelago, the Marquesas Islands, Easter Island, the Galapagos Islands, Fiji, Tuvalu, the Gilbert Islands, the Marshall Islands, the New Hebrides, New Caledonia, the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii) and others.

The Indian Ocean:

The Indian Ocean is bordered by the east coast of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Australia and the Indonesian Islands.

Smaller bodies of water connected to the Indian Ocean include the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman, the Bay of Bengal, and thee Mozambique Channel.

River systems draining into the Indian Ocean include the Tigris-Euphrates in the Middle East, the Indus, and Ganges in South Asia, the Irrawaddy in Myanmar (formerly Burma), and the Limpopo, Zambezi, and Juba-Shibali river systems in Africa.

Islands in the Indian Ocean include Madagascar, Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), the Comoros, the Seychelles, Mauritius, the Maldives, the Andaman Islands, and Socotra.

The Arctic Ocean:

The Arctic Ocean occupies the waters around the North Pole.  It is surrounded by the northern coasts of Russia, Scandinavia, North America and Greenland.

Smaller bodies of water connected to the Arctic Ocean include the Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, the East Siberia Sea, Laptev Sea, Kara Sea, the Gulf of Ob, and Barents Sea.

River systems that drain into the Arctic Ocean include the Mackenzie and Yukon in North America, and the Ob, Yenisey, and Lena river systems in Siberian Russia.

Islands in the Arctic Ocean include Novaya Zemlya, Svalbard, Zemlya Frantsa Iosifa (Franz Josef Land), Severnaya Zemlya (North Land), Novosibirskiye Ostrova (New Siberian Islands), Ostrova Vrangelva (Wrangle Island), and the Canadian Arctic islands, which include Ellesmere Island and the Queen Elizabeth Islands.

The Arctic Ocean is the coldest of the world’s oceans and much of it is covered by seasonal or permanent ice.


Carolyn H. Anderson et. al. (editors).  The National Geographic Atlas of the World.  Revised Sixth Edition.  Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1992.

Quentin Stanford (Advisory Editor).  The Canadian Oxford School Atlas.  Fourth Edition.  Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1977.