If for no other reason than its expansive vastness, the Pacific Ocean conjures images of romance and tropical appeal. When Americans, for instance, look at the Atlantic Ocean, they look backwards toward the original settlers and colonists. The Pacific, by contrast, still represents an unbounded future – despite the charting of all its waters. Its violent tempests and tsunamis; its deep teeming with all manner of marine life; and the beautiful coasts that surround it combine to reveal interesting Pacific Ocean facts.
Largest Volcano: Tamu Massif
The Pacific Ocean houses an undersea volcano that may just be the largest in the world, even the solar system. Submarine volcanoes are fissures on the ocean floor from which magma, i.e. molten rock from beneath the crust of the earth, can spout. Discovered at Shatsky Rise – an underwater mountain range east of Japan – in 2013, Tamu Massif appears to be inactive. With a base width of 650 kilometers, this volcano is comparable in total area to the state of New Mexico.
Scientists from Texas A&M University (for which Tamu Massif is named) believe eruptions over millions of years formed its present structure. Because so much of the ocean floor remains unexplored, the volcano’s status as biggest and best may be a temporary distinction, these same researchers predict.
Deepest Ocean: Mariana Trench
Among the many Pacific Ocean facts is that, not only is it the largest, but it is also the deepest ocean on earth. Located 124 miles east of the Mariana Islands – east of the Philippines – the Mariana Trench is an undersea canyon encompassing the deepest place on earth: the Challenger Deep. At seven miles below the ocean surface, the Challenger Deep is quite dark and even scary.
Though both remote and manned expeditions have sunk to its depths, the Challenger Deep is still largely opaque. Scientists who have plumbed the depths report shrimp-like relatives one foot in length. Oddly colored sea cucumbers and a dearth on calcium carbonate shellfish also distinguish the Deep from higher plateaus. Because the pressure is so high, only species adapted to the harsh conditions of this region can survive.
Sea Life Rebounds After Nuclear Tests
The Bikini Atoll, a chain of island reefs in the south Pacific, was the site of intensive nuclear testing for nearly a decade in the mid-20th century. The last bombs detonated in the vicinity were many times more destructive than those dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki. The successive blasts completely destroyed the island ecosystems to such a degree that Bikini classified as a wasteland when the tests were discontinued.
Very surprising among Pacific Ocean facts is that what was dead is now alive. Biological populations – including crabs, fish and coral – rebounded in spectacular fashion. In number and size, these species are thriving in the once lifeless locale. Although the atoll is not safe enough for human habitation, the growth of sea creatures, despite their consumption of radioactive water and flora, surprises many scholars. Although few believe it will return to the island utopia it once was, Bikini might continue to astonish pessimistic scientists in years to come.
Pacific Ocean facts can be demoraphic, as well. Of the 16 million Mormons in the world, one might expect the vast majority to live in Utah or the mountain west. Yet as a percentage of total population, Mormons dominate the small nation-states of Polynesia, Micronesia and the wider South Pacific.
According to statistics gleaned from the Central Intelligence Agency and the United Nations, Latter-Day Saints make up the greatest religious concentrations of Tonga, Samoa and American Samoa (OK, that’s a U.S. territory). The Encyclopedia of Mormonism suggests that these places are open to the LDS message because ancestors of scriptural figures settled there.
Surfin’ USA… and Costa Rica and Down Under, Too
Sure, there are great surfing beaches all over the world. Most of them, though, have a Pacific Ocean connection. From Taiwan to Australia to Hawaii and Fiji, the most desirable waves are all too often Pacific waves. With Malibu, California serving as an iconic surf spot in American film and song, Hawaii boasts the most fearsome American waves at Jaws in Maui and Pipeline at Oahu.
Siargao Island of the Philippines sports some giant waves that attract the most fearless risk takers. Costa Rica’s Tamarindo Beach draws crowds for both its waves and its wildlife. To be sure, Pacific Ocean facts must include recreation.
El Niño and La Niña
El Niño and La Niña are opposite phases of what climatologists refer to as the El Niño -Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle. The two phases trade off in the equatorial Pacific, between the International date line and about 120 degrees longitudinally west of there.
Essentially, each represent deviations of normal surface temperatures – La Niña in the direction of cooler water; El Niño, warmer water. ENSO affects the currents and maritime biology of the sea. In addition, it influences climate and weather all over the world. Each phase lasts about a year in duration. Their existence and behavior are very interesting Pacific Ocean facts.
The Great Barrier Reef
The Pacific Ocean hosts a plethora of ecological wonders. Ranking high among them is the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland, Australia. It contains the world’s largest array of coral reefs, representing 400 kinds of coral. Sea creatures – thousands of species of fish and mollusks – make the reef their home, as do the Large Green Turtle and the Dugong, or sea cow, both endangered species. Given its wide diversity of aquatic flora, fauna and biomes, the Great Barrier Reef serves as an anchor to the entire global ecosystem.
All in all, the Pacific Ocean represents the beauty and expanse of planet Earth; the defiance of nature and challenge to the human spirit; and a great deal of fun thrown in for good measure. Those who traverse this mighty body of water – or simply enjoy it from the beach – both love and fear its beauty and power. Those who have not, need to go now.