Indian Ocean


Indian Ocean Essay, Research Paper

Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean is the third largest body of water in the world,

covering about 20% of the Earth’s water surface. It is bounded on the

north by southern Asia; on the west by the Arabian Peninsula and

Africa; on the east by the Malay Peninsula, the Sunda Islands, and

Australia; and on the south by Antarctica. It is separated from the

Atlantic Ocean by the 20 deg east meridian south of Africa, and from

the Pacific by the 147 deg east meridian. The northernmost extent of

the Indian Ocean is approximately 30 deg north latitude in the Persian

Gulf. The ocean is nearly 10,000 km (6,200 mi) wide at the southern

tips of Africa and Australia; its area is 73,556,000 sq km (28,400,000

sq mi), including the RED SEA and the PERSIAN GULF. The ocean’s

volume is estimated to be 292,131,000 km(3) (70,086,000 mi(3)). Small

islands dot the continental rims. Island nations within the ocean are

Madagascar (formerly Malagasy Republic), the world’s fourth largest

island; Comoros; Seychelles; Maldives; Mauritius; and Sri Lanka.

Indonesia borders it. The ocean’s importance as a transit route

between Asia and Africa has made it a scene of conflict. Because of

its size, however, no one nation had successfully dominated until the

early 1800s when Britain controlled much of the surrounding land. Its

strategic importance far outweighs the economic value of its minerals or marine life.


The African, Indian, and Antarctic crustal plates converge in the Indian Ocean. Their junctures are marked by branches of the

MID-OCEANIC RIDGE forming an inverted Y, with the stem running south from the edge of the continental shelf near Bombay, India.

The eastern, western, and southern basins thus formed are subdivided into smaller basins by ridges. The ocean’s continental shelves

are narrow, averaging 200 km (125 mi) in width. An exception is found off Australia’s western coast, where the shelf width exceeds

1,000 km (600 mi). The average depth of the ocean is 3,890 m (12,760 ft). Its deepest point, in the Java Trench, is estimated to be

7,450 m (24,442 ft). North of 50 deg south latitude, 86% of the main basin is covered by pelagic sediments, of which more than

one-half is globigerina ooze. The remaining 14% is layered with terrigenous sediments. Glacial outwash dominates the extreme

southern latitudes.


The climate north of the equator is affected by a MONSOON wind system. Strong northeast winds blow from October until April; from

May until October south and west winds prevail. In the ARABIAN SEA the violent monsoon brings rain to the Indian subcontinent. In

the southern hemisphere the winds generally are milder, but summer storms near Mauritius can be severe. When the monsoon

winds change, cyclones sometimes strike the shores of the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal.


Among the few large rivers flowing into the Indian Ocean are the Zambezi, Shatt-al-Arab, Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, and

Irrawaddy. Currents are largely controlled by the monsoon. Two large circular currents, one in the northern hemisphere flowing

clockwise and one south of the equator moving counterclockwise, constitute the dominant flow pattern. During the winter monsoon,

however, currents in the north are reversed. Deepwater circulation is controlled primarily by inflows from the Atlantic Ocean, the Red

Sea, and Antarctic currents. North of 20 deg south latitude the minimum surface temperature is 22 deg C (72 deg F), exceeding 28

deg C (82 deg F) to the east. Southward of 40 deg south latitude, temperatures drop quickly. Surface water salinity ranges from 32 to

37 parts per 1,000, the highest occurring in the Arabian Sea and in a belt between southern Africa and southwestern Australia. Pack

ice and icebergs are found throughout the year south of about 65 deg south latitude. The average northern limit of icebergs is 45 deg

south latitude.


The warmth of the Indian Ocean keeps phytoplankton production low, except along the northern fringes and in a few scattered spots

elsewhere; life in the ocean is thus limited. Fishing is confined to subsistence levels. The ocean’s most important function has been

that of trade transport. Europeans, following the ancient seafarers, had crossed its waters to reach the East and returned with silks,

rugs, tea, and spices. The Indian Ocean is also noted for its role in the shipment of petroleum from Southeast Asia to the West.

Petroleum is the most significant mineral of the area, extracted primarily on the Persian Gulf.


The earliest known civilizations, in the valleys of the Nile, Euphrates, Tigris, and Indus rivers and in Southeast Asia, have developed

near the Indian Ocean. During Egypt’s 1st dynasty (c.3000 BC), sailors were sent out onto its waters, journeying to Punt, thought to

be part of present-day Somalia. Returning ships brought gold and slaves. Phoenicians of the 3d millennium BC may have entered the

area, but no settlements resulted. Marco POLO (c.1254-1324) is thought to have returned from the Far East by way of the Strait of

Malacca. Vasco da GAMA rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1497 and sailed to India, the first European to do so. The ancient

peoples who lived along the ocean each tried unsuccessfully to control its commercial routes. Portugal attempted to achieve

preeminence for more than a century but was thwarted in the mid-1600s. The Dutch East India Company (1602-1798) sought control

of trade with the East across the Indian Ocean. France and Britain established trade companies for the area, but Britain became the

principal power. After 1815 it dominated the area.

The opening of the SUEZ CANAL in 1869 revived European interest in the East, but no nation was successful in establishing trade

dominance. Since World War II the United Kingdom has withdrawn from the area, to be only partially replaced by India, the USSR,

and the United States. The last two have tried to establish hegemony by negotiating for naval base sites. Developing countries

bordering the ocean, however, seek to have it made a “zone of peace” so that they may use its shipping lanes freely.

Bibliography: Braun, D., The Indian Ocean (1983); Chandra, S., ed., The Indian Ocean (1987); Chaudhuri, K. N., Trade and

Civilization in the Indian Ocean (1985); Cousteau, Jacques-Yves, and Diole, Philippe, Life and Death in a Coral Sea (1971); Cubitt,

Gerald, Islands of the Indian Ocean (1975); Das Gupta, A., and Pearson, M.N., India and the Indian Ocean (1987); Dowdy, W. L.,

and Trood, R., eds., The Indian Ocean (1985); Kerr, A., ed., Resources and Development in the Indian Ocean Region (1981); Nairn,

A. E., and Stehli, F. G., eds., The Ocean Basins and Margins, Vol. 6: The Indian Ocean (1982); Ostheimer, John M., ed., The

Politics of the Western Indian Ocean Islands (1975); Toussaint, Auguste, The History of the Indian Ocean, trans. by June

Guicharnaud (1966).

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