At some point, most of us have idly wondered if the different oceans, such as the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean meet or not. Do they mix, or do they remain separate? How does this work? We want to believe that two bodies of water magically remain independent of each other. However, the answer is not as simple as yes or no.
The ‘border’ between the two oceans exists between South America and Antarctica. Despite the circulation of photos and videos showing two different seas meet, this boundary is typically invisible. Sea borders are even less distinct than those between countries on land.
The truth is a bit of both. Yes, the courses of the two oceans do collide, but how do they interact?
Let’s have a more in-depth look.
Pacific and Atlantic Ocean Borderlines
The Pacific and the Atlantic are the vastest oceans in the world. In a nutshell, the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean border goes from Cape Horn, the tip of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago in South America, to Antarctica’s shores.
This border space is where the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean meet. The area of sea is the Drake Strait or passage, named as such for Sir Francis Drake. Drake was an explorer during the Elizabethan era (the 16th century). Interestingly, he was not the first person to explore this region. That credit goes to Ferdinand Magellan, who discovered the Tierra del Fuego and the strait area in the early 1500s.
The Pacific lies to the west of North and South America, ending by bordering Australia and Asia. The Atlantic runs up from Antarctica to the Cape of Good Hope, along Africa’s west coast. It then touches on Europe, Greenland, and then down the east coast of the Americas.
The oceanic border area between Tierra del Fuego and Antarctica has notoriously rough seas due to harsh weather and strong underwater currents.
Present-day ships have the equipment to handle the pressure of sailing in this area. This area has tourism value as many people wish to see Cape Horn’s fascinating penguin and seal populations. However, for many centuries, sailors in control of less-developed maritime vessels avoided the area like the plague.
In 1616, Dutch sailors Willem Cornelius Schouten and Jacob Le Maire first succeeded in traversing the strait. This voyage has only more recently gained notoriety as the first through this tumultuous strait. Schouten and Le Maire received charges of illegal maritime travel activities during this voyage, and Le Maire, as a veteran sailor, died on the passage back to the Netherlands.
The severe sailing conditions result from the two oceans’ meetings, as they have dissimilar solidities, temperatures, and tides.
Different Currents, Densities, and Temperatures
The simple answer is yes, the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans do mix. However, they do not blend easily and peacefully. There are a few factors that make the joining of the seas a complicated matter.
The water of the Atlantic Ocean is denser than that of the Pacific as it contains more salt. The Atlantic is also much colder than the Pacific, which also makes its waters more condensed. The two different currents run into each other at Cape Horn.
All these factors serve to cause volatile conditions in this region. The tumultuous seas occur as the various solidities, tides, and temperatures of the two oceans interact and react to each other.
Seawater is continually trying to find equilibrium between all these variances. As cold water is denser than warm water, it sinks. The warmer water flows to the top and replaces the cooling water. Seawater that has a higher salt level also flows into the water with less salt.
Thus, this natural tendency to seek balance creates flow, blending, and movement throughout the oceans. This natural law also means that the Pacific and Atlantic do not stand utterly proud of one another.
The Separate Waters Myth
If you have found images and videos showing two differently colored oceans meeting, you may feel confused. Sometimes, yes, the oceans do appear to be different colors. This distinction happens when events like silt and sediment from melting glaciers or rivers washing down into the oceans occur.
For a while, the oceans will appear to be different hues until they blend. The appearance of varying shades of the sea does not last, however. Eventually, the waters of the two different oceans do merge.
This process may take a little time due to the varied eddies, temperatures, and densities of each ocean, as discussed earlier.
More Than Meets the Eye: Oceanic Conditions Influence Climate
As you can see, the oceanic situation is complex. The various and constantly changing temperatures and other factors discussed can even impact the earth’s climate. The definition of environmental types depends on the typical weather conditions experienced in a given area over time.
Climatic changes can happen through Ocean-Atmosphere Coupling, i.e., when different oceans and their characteristics interact. For example, the El Niño phenomenon, characterized by very dry conditions, can result from oceanic conditions. Typically, El Niño arises when warm pacific conditions prevail. This situation may also cause cyclonic conditions.
The La Niña effect, characterized by very wet conditions, is due to warm conditions in the North Atlantic in springtime.
In each case, the landmass impacted climactically depends on where and to what degree the oceanic developments are occurring.
Therefore, yes, the world’s oceans do meet and mix, but it can be a tumultuous and atmospheric occurrence.
So there you have it. Essentially, the answer is yes, the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean meet and blend. But it is more complicated than one first anticipates. The degree and speed of mixing of the two different oceans depend on a variety of factors.
The oceans’ meeting also causes climatic events, which shows the meeting of the seas is not calm and straightforward.
Like with anything, it is best to do your research well before you speak to friends or colleagues about a complex topic!