The biggest ocean in the world is the Pacific Ocean. It covers almost 33% of the Earth’s surface at 169 million square kilometers. The Pacific Ocean stretches from the North Pole to the South Pole and is the giant stretch of water separating the west coast of North America from Japan. The Hawaiian Islands float in the middle of this massive ocean.
The Pacific Ocean is surrounded by a hotbed of volcanic activity referred to as the Ring of Fire; an arc of volcanoes formed around its borders. Almost the entire boundary of the Pacific Ocean is a subduction zone; a boundary between two tectonic plates. The volcanoes on the west coast of North America are a result of the Pacific Plate (under the Pacific Ocean) colliding with the North American Plate. Oceanic plates tend to slide under continental plates; melt into magma and create a force of upward pressure that needs to be released in the form of volcanoes and earthquakes. The west coast of North America is dotted with volcanoes; Mt. St. Helens, for example and experiences hundreds of small earthquakes per year (they are nearly all undetectable to people). The earthquake that rocked Kobe, Japan resulted from the pressure build up of the Pacific and Philippine Oceanic Plates colliding with the Eurasian Plate and North American continental Plates. Japan has the unfortunate luck of sitting on top of 4 separate tectonic plates!
Ironically, the Pacific Ocean gets its name from the Latin ‘Mare Pacificum’ (Peaceful Sea) from the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. Plate tectonics were not fully understood in his time, so we can let him off the hook for that one.
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