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Pacific Ocean

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

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The largest division of the hydrosphere, lying between Asia and Australia and North and South America. It is nearly landlocked to the N., communicating with the Arctic Ocean only by Bering Strait, which is 36 m. wide and of small depth. The southern boundary is generally regarded as the parallel of 40° S., but sometimes the part of the great Southern Ocean (40 0 to 662° S.) between the meridians passing through South Cape in Tasmania and Cape Horn is included. The north to south distance from Bering Strait to the Antarctic circle is 9300 m., and the Pacific attains its greatest breadth, 10,000 m., at the equator. The coasts of the Pacific are of varied contour. The American coasts are for the most part mountainous and unbroken, the chief indentation being the Gulf of California; but the general type is departed from in the extreme north and south, the southern coast of South America consisting of bays and fjords with scattered islands, while the coast of Alaska is similarly broken in the south and becomes low and swampy towards the north. The coast of Australia is high and unbroken; there are no inlets of considerable size, although the small openings include some of the finest harbours in the world, as Moreton Bay and Port Jackson. The Asiatic coasts are for the most part low and irregular, and a number of seas are more or less completely enclosed and cut off from communication with the open ocean. Bering Sea is bounded by the Alaskan Peninsula and the chain of the Aleutian Islands; the sea of Okhotsk is enclosed by the peninsula of Kamchatka and the Kurile Islands; the Sea of Japan is shut off by Sakhalin Island, the Japanese Islands and the peninsula of Korea; the Yellow Sea is an opening between the coast of China and Korea; the China Sea lies between the Asiatic continent and the island of Formosa, the Philippine group, Palawan and Borneo. Amongst the islands of the Malay Archipelago are a number of enclosed areas - the Sulu, Celebes, Java, Banda and Arafura seas. The Arafura Sea extends eastwards to Torres Strait, and beyond the strait is the Coral Sea, bounded by New Guinea, the islands of Melanesia and north-eastern Australia.

The area and volume of the Pacific Ocean and its seas, with the mean depths calculated therefrom, are given in the article Ocean. The Pacific Ocean has one and three-quarter times the E area of the Atlantic - the next largest division of the hydrosphere - and has more than double its volume of water. Its area is greater than the whole land surface of the globe, and the volume of its waters is six times that of all the land above sealevel. The total land area draining to the Pacific is estimated by Murray at 7,500,000 sq. m., or little more than one-fourth of the area draining to the Atlantic. The American rivers draining to the Pacific, except the Yukon, Columbia and Colorado, are unimportant. The chief Asiatic rivers are the Amur, the Hwang-ho and the Yangtsze-kiang: none of which enters the open Pacific directly. Hence the proportion of purely oceanic area to the total area is greater in the Pacific than in the Atlantic, the supply of detritus being smaller, and terrigenous deposits are not borne so far from land.

The bed of the Pacific is not naturally divided into physical regions, but for descriptive purposes the parts of the area lying east and west of 150° W. are conveniently dealt with separately. The eastern region is characterized by great uniformity of depth; the 2000-fathom line keeps close to the American coast except off the Isthmus of Panama, whence an ill-defined ridge of less than 2000 fathoms runs south-westwards, and again off the coast of South America in about 40° S., where a similar bank runs west and unites with the former. The bank then continues south to the Antarctic Ocean, in about 120° W. Practically the whole of the north-east Pacific is therefore more than 2000 fathoms deep, and the south-east has two roughly triangular spaces, including the greater part of the area, between 2000 and 3000 fathoms. Notwithstanding this great average depth, the " deeps " or areas over 3000 fathoms are small in number and extent. Five small deeps are recognized along a line close to the coast of South America and parallel to it, in the depression enclosed by the two banks mentioned - they extend from about 12° to 30° S. - and are named, from north to south, Milne-Edwards deep, Krummel deep, Bartholomew deep, Richards deep and Haeckel deep. In the northeast the deeps are again few and small, but they are quite irregularly distributed, and not near the land. East of 150° W. the Pacific has few islands; the oceanic islands are volcanic, and coral formations are of course scanty. The most important group is the Galapagos Islands.

The western Pacific is in complete contrast to the part just described. Depths of less than 2000 fathoms occur continuously on a bank extending from south-eastern Asia, on which stands the Malay Archipelago. This bank continues southwards to the Antarctic Ocean, expanding into a plateau on which Australia stands, and a branch runs eastwards and then southwards from the north-east of Australia through New Zealand. The most considerable areas over 3000 fathoms are the Aldrich deep, an irregular triangle nearly as large as Australia, situated to the east of New Zealand, in which a sounding of 5155 fathoms was obtained by H.M.S. " Penguin," near the Tonga Islands: and the Tuscarora deep, a long, narrow trough running immediately to the east of Kamchatka, the Kurile Islands and Japan. A long strip within the Tuscarora deep forms the largest continuous area with a depth greater than 4000 fathoms. All the rest of the western Pacific is a region of quite irregular contour. The average depth varies from 1500 to 2500 fathoms, and from this level innumerable volcanic ridges and peaks rise almost or quite to the surface, their summits for the most part occupied by atolls and reefs of coral formation, while interspersed with these are depressions, mostly of small area, among which the deepest soundings recorded have been obtained. The United States telegraph ship " Nero," while surveying for a cable between Hawaii and the Philippines, sounded in 1900 the greatest depth yet known between Midway Islands and Guam (12° 43' N., 1 45° 49' E.) in 5269 fathoms, or almost exactly 6 m.



(sq. m.)


(cub. m.)



















over 4000



55,6 2 3,9 00


The following table, showing the area of the floor of the Pacific (to 40° S.) and the volume of water at different levels, is due to Sir J. Murray: So far as our knowledge goes, the present contours of the open Pacific Ocean are almost as they were in Palaeozoic times, and in the intervening ages changes of level and form have been slight. There is no reason to suppose that any considerable part of the vast area now covered by the waters of the Pacific has ever been exposed as dry land. Hence the Pacific basin may be regarded as a stable and homogeneous geographical unit, clearly marked off round nearly all its margin by steep sharp slopes, extending in places through the whole known range of elevation above sea-level and of depression below it - from the Cordilleras of South America to the island chains of Siberia and Australia. (See Ocean.) The deeper parts of the bed of the Pacific are covered by deposits of red clay, which occupies an area estimated at no less than 105,672,000 sq. kilometres, or three-fifths of the whole. Over a large part of the central Pacific, far removed from any possible land-influences or deposits of ooze, the red-clay region is characterized by the occurrence of manganese, which gives the clay a chocolate colour, and manganese nodules are found in vast numbers, along with sharks' teeth and the ear-bones and other bones of whales. Radiolarian ooze is found in the central Pacific in a region between 15° N. to 10° S. and 140° E. to 150° W., occurring in seven distinct localities, and covering an area of about 3,007,000 sq. kilometres. The " Challenger " discovered an area of radiolarian ooze between 7°-12° N. and 147°-152° W., and another in 2°-10° S., 152°-153° W. Between these two areas, almost on the equator, a strip of globigerina ooze was found, corresponding to the zone of globigerina in the equatorial region of the Atlantic. Globigerina ooze covers considerable areas in the intermediate depths of the west and south Pacific - west of New Zealand, and along the parallel of 40° S., between 80°-98° W. and 150°-118° W. - but this deposit is not known in the northeastern part of the basin. The total area covered by it is estimated at 38,332,000 sq. kilometres - about two-thirds of that in the Atlantic. Pteropod ooze occurs only in the neighbourhood of Fiji and other islands of the western Pacific, passing up into fine coral sands and mud. Diatom ooze has been found in detached areas between the Philippine and Mariana islands, and near the Aleutian and Galapagos groups, forming an exception to the general rule of its occurrence only in high latitudes. All the enclosed seas are occupied by characteristic terrigenous deposits.

Partly on account of its great extent, and partly because there is no wide opening to the Arctic regions, the normal wind circulation is on the whole less modified in the North Pacific than in the Atlantic, except in the west, where the south-west logy.

monsoon of southern Asia controls the prevailing winds, its influence extending eastwards to 145° E., near the Ladrones, and southwards to the equator. In the South Pacific the northwest monsoon of Australia affects a belt running east of New Guinea to the Solomon Islands. In the east the north-east trade-belt extends between 5° and 25° N.; the south-east trade crosses the equator, and its mean southern limit is 25° S. The trade-winds are generally weaker and less persistent in the Pacific than in the Atlantic, and the intervening belt of equatorial calms is broader. Except in the east of the Pacific, the south-east trade is only fully developed during the southern winter; at other seasons the regular trade-belt is cut across from north-west to south-east by a band twenty to thirty degrees wide, in which the trades alternate with winds from north-east and north, and with calms, the calms prevailing chiefly at the boundary of the monsoon region (5° N.-15° S., 160°-185° E.). This area, in which the south-east trade is interrupted, includes the Fiji, Navigator and Society groups, and the Paumotus. In the Marquesas group the trade-wind is constant. Within the southern monsoon region there is a gradual transition to the northwest monsoon of New Guinea in low latitudes, and in higher latitudes to the north-east wind of the Queensland coast. The great warming and abundant rainfall of the island regions of the western Pacific, and the low temperature of the surface water in the east, cause a displacement of the southern tropical maximum of pressure to the east; hence we have a permanent " South Pacific anticyclone " close to the coast of South America. The characteristic feature of the south-western Pacific is therefore the relatively low pressure and the existence of a true monsoon region in the middle of the tradewind belt. It is to be noted that the climate of the islands of the Pacific becomes more and more healthy the farther they are from the monsoon region. The island regions of the Pacific are everywhere characterized by uniform high air-temperatures; the mean annual range varies from 1° to 9° F., with extremes of 24° to 27°, and the diurnal range from 9° to 16°. In the monsoon region relative humidity is high, viz. 80 to 90%. The rainfall is abundant; in the western island groups there is no well-marked rainy season, but over the whole region the greater part of the rainfall takes place during the southern summer, even as far north as Hawaii. In the trade-wind region we find the characteristic heavy rainfall on the weather sides of the islands, and a shorter rainy season at the season of highest sun on the lee side. Buchan describes the island-studded portion of the western Pacific as the most extensive region of the globe characterized by an unusually heavy rainfall. Beyond the tropical high-pressure belt, the winds of the North Pacific are under the control of an area of low pressure, which, however, attains neither the size nor the intensity of the " Iceland " depression in the north Atlantic. The result is that north-westerly winds, which in winter are exceedingly dry and cold, blow over the western or Asiatic area; westerly winds prevail in the centre, and south-westerly and southerly winds off the American coast. In the southern hemisphere there is a transition to the low-pressure belt encircling the Southern Ocean, in which westerly and north-westerly winds continue all the year round.

The distribution of temperature in the waters of the Pacific Ocean has been fully investigated, so far as is possible with the existing observations, by G. Schott. At the surface an extensive area of maximum temperature (over 20° C.) occurs over 10° on each side of the equator to the west of the ocean. On the eastern side temperature falls to 22° on the equator and is slightly higher to N. and S. In the North Pacific, beyond lat. 40°, the surface is generally warmer on the E. than on the W., but this condition is, on the whole, reversed in corresponding southern latitudes. In the intermediate levels, down to depths not exceeding woo metres, a remarkable distribution appears. A narrow strip of cold water runs along the equator, widest to the east and narrowing westward, and separates two areas of maximum which have their greatest intensity in the western part of the ocean, and have their central portions in higher latitudes as depth increases, apparently tending constantly to a position in about latitude 30° to 35° N. and S. A comparison of this distribution with that of atmospheric pressure is of great interest. High temperature in the depth may be taken to mean descending water, just as high atmospheric pressure means descending air, and hence it would seem that the slow vertical movement of water in the Pacific reproduces to some extent the phenomena of the " doldrums " and " horse latitudes," with this difference, that the centres of maximum intensity lie off the east of the land instead of the west as in the case of the continents. The isothermal lines, in fact, suggest that in the vast area of the Pacific something corresponding to the " planetary circulation " is established, further investigation of which may be of extreme value in relation to current inquiries concerning the upper air. In the greater depths temperature is extraordinarily uniform, 80% of the existing observations falling within the limits of 1.6° C. and 1.9° C. In the enclosed seas of the western Pacific, temperature usually falls till a depth corresponding to that of the summit of the barriers which isolate them from the open ocean is reached, and below that point temperature is uniform to the bottom. In the Sulu Sea, for example, a temperature of 10.3° C. is reached at 400 fathoms, and this remains constant to the bottom in 2500 fathoms.

The surface waters of the North Pacific are relatively fresh, the salinity being on the whole much lower than in the other great Salinity. oceans. The saltest waters are found along a belt extend ing westwards from the American coast on the Tropic of Cancer to 160° E., then turning southwards to the equator. North of this salinity diminishes steadily, especially to the north-west, the Sea of Okhotsk showing the lowest salinity observed in any part of the globe. South and east of the axis mentioned salinity becomes less to just north of the equator, where it increases again, and the saltest waters of the whole Pacific are found, as we should expect, in the south-east trade-wind region, the maximum occurring in about 18° S. and 120° W. South of the Tropic of Capricorn the isohalines run nearly east and west, salinity diminishing quickly to the Southern Ocean. The bottom waters have almost uniformly a salinity of 34.8 per mille, corresponding closely with the bottom waters of the South Atlantic, but fresher than those of the North Atlantic.

The surface currents of the Pacific have not been studied in the same detail as those of the Atlantic, and their seasonal variations Circulation are little known except in the monsoon regions. Speak . ing generally, however, it may be said that they are for the most part under the direct control of the prevailing winds. The North Equatorial Current is due to the action of the north-east trades. It splits into two parts east of the Philippines, one division flowing northwards as the Kuro Siwo or Black Stream, the analogue of the Gulf Stream, to feed a drift circulation which follows the winds of the North Pacific, and finally forms the Californian Current flowing southwards along the American coast. Part of this rejoins the North Equatorial Current, and part probably forms the variable Mexican Current, which follows the coasts of Mexico and California close to the land. The Equatorial CounterCurrent flowing eastwards is largely assisted during the latter half of the year by the south-west monsoon, and from July to October the south-west winds prevailing east of 150° E. further strengthen the current, but later in the year the easterly winds weaken or even destroy it. The South Equatorial Current is produced by the southeast trades, and is more vigorous than its northern counterpart. On reaching the western Pacific part of this current passes southwards, east of New Zealand, and again east of Australia, as the East Australian Current, part northwards to join the Equatorial CounterCurrent, and during the north-east monsoon part makes its way through the China Sea towards the Indian Ocean. During the south-west monsoon this last branch is reversed, and the surface waters of the China Sea probably unite with the Kuro Siwo. Between the Kuro Siwo and the Asiatic coast a band of cold water, with a slight movement to the southward, known as the Oya Siwo, forms the analogue of the " Cold Wall " of the Atlantic. In the higher latitudes of the South Pacific the surface movement forms part of the west wind-drift of the Roaring Forties. On the west coast of South America the cold waters of the Humboldt or Peruvian Current corresponding to the Benguela Current of the South Atlantic, make their way northwards, ultimately joining the South Equatorial Current. The surface circulation of the Pacific is, on the whole, less active than that of the Atlantic. The centres of the rotational movement are marked by " Sargasso Seas " in the north and south basins, but they are of small extent compared with the Sargasso Sea of the North Atlantic. From the known peculiarities of the distribution of temperature, it is probable that definite circulation of water is in the Pacific confined to levels very near the surface, except in the region of the Kuro Siwo, and possibly also in parts of the Peruvian Current. The only movement in the depths is the slow creep of ice-cold water northwards along the bottom from the Southern Ocean; but this is more marked, and apparently penetrates farther north, than in the Atlantic.

See Reports of expeditions of the U.S.S. " Albatross " and " Thetis," 1888-1892; A. Agassiz, Expedition to the Tropical Pacific, 1899-1900, 1904-1905; H.M.S. " Challenger," 1873-1876; " Egeria, " 1888-1889 and 1899; " Elisabeth," 1877; " Gazelle," 1875-1876; " Planet," 1906; " Penguin," 1891-1903; " Tuscarora," 1873-1874; " Vettor Pisani," 1884; " Vitraz," 1887-1888; also observations of surveying and cable ships, and special papers in the Annalen der Hydrographie (for distribution of temperature see G. Schott, p. 2, 1910).

(H. N. D.) Islands Of The Pacific Ocean Up to a certain point, the islands of the Pacific fall into an obvious classification, partly physical, partly political. In the west there is the great looped chain which fringes the east coast of Asia, and with it encloses the series of seas which form parts of the ocean. The north of the chain, from the Kuriles to Formosa, belongs to the empire of Japan; southward it is continued by the Philippines (belonging to the United States of America) which link it with the vast archipelago between the Pacific and Indian oceans, to which the name Malay Archipelago is commonly applied. As the loop of the Kuriles depends from the southern extremity of Kamchatka, so from the east of the same peninsula another loop extends across the northern part of the ocean to Alaska, and helps to demarcate the Bering Sea; this chain is distinctly broken to the east of the Commander Islands, but is practically continuous thereafter under the name of the Aleutian Islands. Islands form a much less important feature of the American Pacific coast than of the Asiatic; between 48° N. and 38° S. there are practically none, and to the north and south of these parallels respectively the islands, though large and numerous, are purely continental, lying close under the mainland, enclosing no seas, and forming no separate political units. South-eastward of the Malay Archipelago lies " the largest island and the smallest continent," Australia; eastward of the archipelago, New Guinea, the largest island if Australia be regarded as a continent only. With Australia may be associated the islands lying close under its coasts, including Tasmania. Next follow the two great islands and attendant islets of New Zealand.

There now remains a vast number of small islands which lie chiefly (but not entirely) within an area which may be defined as extending from the Philippines, New Guinea and Australia to 130° W., and from tropic to tropic. These islands fall principally into a number of groups clearly enough defined to be well seen on a map of small scale; they are moreover divided, as will be shown, into three main divisions; but whereas they have enough characteristics in common to render a general view of them desirable, there is no well-recognized name to cover them all. The name Polynesia was formerly taken to do so, but belongs properly to one of the three main divisions, to which the name Eastern Polynesia was otherwise given; Oceania and Oceanica are variants of another term which has been used for the same purpose, though by no means generally. Moreover usage varies slightly as regards the limits of the three main divisions, but the accompanying table shows the most usual classification, naming the principal groups within each, and distributing them according to the powers to which they are subject.

The following islands may be classified as oceanic, but not with any of the three main divisions: the Bonin Islands, north of the Marianas, belonging to Japan; Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands (to New South Wales); Easter Island (to Chile); the Galapagos Islands (to Ecuador). In an area to be defined roughly as lying about the Tropic of Cancer, between Hawaii and the Bonin Islands, there are scattered a few small islands and reefs, of most of which the position, if not the existence, is doubtful. Such are Patrocinio (about 28° 30' N., 177° 18' E.) and Ganges (39° 47' N., 154° 15' E.), among others which appear on most maps. Marcus Island, in 23° 10' N., 154° E., was annexed by Japan in 1899 with a view to its becoming a cable station.



sq. m.



Area '

sq. m.




sq. m.

Fiji .



Gilbert Island .



America Islands .



Louisiade Archip.



Cook Islands'. .



To Great

Santa Cruz Island



Ellice Islands. .




Solomon Islands

Manihiki Islands .



(part).. .



Niue. .. .



Phoenix Islands .



Pitcairn .



Tokelau Islands .



Tonga Islands. .



Total, British


266,000 .





To United

States of

Guam. .. .



Hawaii.. .



America .

Samoa (part). .



Total, U.S.A.. ... .



.. ... .





To France .

Loyalty Island .



Marquesas Islands



New Caledonia .



Paumotu Archip.



Society Islands .


18, 500

Tubuai Islands .



Wallis Archip. .



Total, French .







To Germany.

Bismarck Archip.



Caroline Islands .



Samoa (part). .



Solomon Islands

Mariana Islands

(part).. .



(excl. Guam) .



Marshall Islands .



Pelew Islands. .



Total, German. ... .







New Hebrides 2 .




Melanesia.. .



Micronesia. .



Polynesia. .



The following paragraphs review the oceanic islands generally, and are therefore concerned almost entirely with the central and mid-western parts of the ocean. It is impossible to estimate the total number of the islands; an atoll, for instance, which may slate in the Marquesas, which afford a type of the extinct volcanic islands, as does Tahiti. In other areas, however, there is still volcanic activity, and in many cases volcanoes to which only tradition attributes eruptions can hardly be classified as extinct. Hawaii contains the celebrated active crater of Kilauea. In Tonga, in the New Hebrides, and in the long chain of the Solomons and the Bismarck Archipelago there is much activity. Submarine vents sometimes break forth, locally raising the level of the sea-bottom, or even forming temporary islands or shoals. Earthquakes are not uncommon in the volcanic areas. Most of the volcanic islands are lofty in proportion to their size. The peaks or sharp cones in which they Islands Of The Pacific Ocean The above figures give a total land area for the whole region of 69,561 sq. m., with a population of 978,130; but they are for the most part merely approximate.

be divided into a large number of islets, often bears a single name. The number of names of islands and separate groups in the Index to the Islands of the Pacific (W. T. Brigham), which covers the limited area under notice, is about 2650, exclusive of alternative names. Of these, it may be mentioned, there is a vast number, owing in some cases to divergence of spelling in the representation of native names, in others to European discoverers naming islands (sometimes twice or thrice successively) of which the native names subsequently came into use also.

The islands may be divided broadly into volcanic and coral islands, though the physiography of many islands is imperfectly known. There are ancient rocks, however, in New Caledonia, which .has a geological affinity with New Zealand; old sedimentary rocks are known in New Pomerania, besides granite and porphyry, and slates, sandstone and chalk occur in Fiji, as well as young volcanic rocks. Along with these, similarly, hornblende and diabase occur in the Pelew Islands and gneiss and mica 1 These are dependencies of New Zealand, as are also the following islands and groups which lie apart from the main Polynesian clusters, nearer New Zealand itself: Antipodes Islands, Auckland Islands, Bounty Islands, Campbell Islands, Chatham Islands, Kermadec Islands.

2 Under British and French influence jointly.

frequently culminate, combined with the rich characteristic vegetation, are the principal features which have led all travellers to extol the beauty of the islands.

In the central and western Pacific the northern and southern limits of the occurrence of reef-forming corals are approximately 30 N. and 30 S. It may be added that this belt narrows greatly towards the east, mainly from the south, in sympathy with the northward flow of cold water off the coast of South America. But apart from this the limits are seen to accord fairly closely with the geographical definition of the area under consideration. Here the broad distinction has been drawn between volcanic and coral islands; but this requires amplification, both because the coral islands follow more than one type, and because the work of corals is in many cases associated with the volcanic islands in the form of fringing or barrier reefs. As to the distribution of coral reefs within the Pacific area, in Micronesia the northern Marianas (volcanic) are without reefs, which, however, are well developed in the south. The Pelew islands have extensive reefs, and the Caroline, Marshall and Gilbert islands are almost entirely coral. In Melanesia, as has been seen, the volcanic type predominates. Coral reefs occur round many of the islands (e.g. the Louisiade and Admiralty groups, New Caledonia and Fiji), but in some cases they are wholly absent or nearly so (e.g. the eastern Solomon Islands and the New Hebrides). Of the Polynesian Islands, the Hawaiian chain presents the type of a volcanic group through which coral reefs are not equally distributed. The main island of Hawaii and Maui at the east end are practically without reefs; which, however, are abundant farther west. Round the volcanic Marquesas Islands, again, coral is scanty, but the Society Islands, Samoa and Tonga have extensive reefs. The various minor groups to the north of these (Ellice, Phoenix, Union, Manihiki and the America Islands) are coral islands. Christmas, one of the last-named, is reputed to be the largest lagoon island in the Pacific. The Paumotu Archipelago is the most extensive of the coral groups.

The coral islands are generally of the form well known under the name of atoll, rising but slightly above sea-level, flat, and generally of annular form, enclosing a lagoon. Often, as has been said, the atoll is divided into a number of islets, but in some smaller atolls the ring is complete, and the sea-water gains access beneath the surface of the reef to the lagoon within, where it is sometimes seen to spout up at the rise of the tide. Besides the atolls there is a type of island which has been called the elevated coral island. The Loyalty Islands exhibit this type, in which former reefs appear as low cliffs, elevated above the sea, and separated from it by a level coastal tract. The island of Mare shows evidence of three such elevations, three distinct cliffs alternating with level tracts. For the much debated question as to the conditions under which atolls and reefs are formed, see Coral Reefs. As to the local distribution of reefs, it has been maintained that in the case of active volcanic islands which have no reefs, their absence is due to subterranean heat. The contour of the sea-bed, however, has been shown to influence this distribution, the continuation of the slope of a steep shore beneath the sea being adverse to their formation, whereas on a gentler slope they may be formed.

1 Flora

2 Fauna

3 History

4 Administration

5 Races

6 Prehistoric Remains


In considering the flora of the islands it is necessary to distinguish between the rich vegetation of the fertile volcanic islands and the poor vegetation of the coral islands. Those plants which are widely distributed are generally found to be propagated from seeds which can easily be carried by the wind or by ocean currents, or form the food of migratory birds. The tropical Asiatic element predominates on the low lands; types characteristic of Australia and New Zealand occur principally on the upper parts of the high islands. In Hawaii there are instances of American elements. In the volcanic islands a distinction may be observed between the windward and leeward flanks, the moister windward slopes being the more richly clothed. But almost everywhere the vegetation serves to smooth the contours of the rugged hills, ferns, mosses and shrubs growing wherever their roots can cling, and leaving only the steepest crags uncovered to form, as in Tahiti, a striking contrast. The flora is estimated to include 15% of ferns, but they form only the most important group among many plants of beautiful foliage, such as draceanas and crotons. Flowering plants are numerous, and the natives often (as in Hawaii) greatly appreciate flowers, which thus add a feature to the picturesqueness of islandlife, though they do not usually grow in great profusion. Fruits are abundant, though indigenous fruits are few; the majority have been introduced by missionaries and others. Oranges are often plentiful, also pine-apples, guavas, custard-apples, mangoes and bananas. These last are of special importance, and the best kind, the Chinese banana, is said to have sprung from a plant given to the missionary John Williams, and cultivated in Samoa. The natives live very largely on vegetable food, among the most important plants which supply them being the taro, yam, banana, bread-fruit, arrow-root, pandanus and coco-nut. The last constitutes a valuable article of commerce in the form of copra, from which palm oil is expressed; the natives make use of this oil in made dishes, and also of the soft half-green kernel and the coco-nut " milk," the clear liquid within the nut. Their well-known drink, kava, is made from a variety of pepper-plant. The most characteristic trees are the coco-nut palm, pandanus and mangrove. The low coral islands suffer frequently from drought; their soil is sandy and unproductive, and in some cases the natives attempt cultivation by excavating trenches and fertilizing them with vegetable and other refuse.


The indigenous fauna of the islands is exceedingly poor in mammals, which are represented mainly by rats and bats. Pigs have been held to be indigenous on some islands, but were doubtless introduced by early navigators. Cattle and horses, where introduced, are found to degenerate rather rapidly unless the supply of fresh stock is kept up. Birds are more numerous than mammals, among the most important kinds being the pigeons and doves, especially the fruit-eating pigeons. Megapodes are found in the Solomon Islands, the New Hebrides, Samoa, Tonga, the Carolines and the Marianas. The remarkable didunculus occurs in Samoa, and after the introduction of cats and rats, which preyed upon it, was compelled to change its habits, dwelling in trees instead of on the ground. Insect life is ricn in northern Melanesia; in southern Melanesia it is less so; in Fiji numerous kinds of insects occur, while individual numbers are small. In the rest of the islands the insect fauna is poor. But if this is true of the land fauna as a whole, especially on the atolls, where it consists mainly of a few birds, lizards and insects, the opposite is the case with the marine fauna. Fish are exceedingly abundant, especially in the lagoons of atolls, and form an important article of food supply for the natives, who are generally expert fishermen. The fish fauna of the islands is especially noted for the gorgeous colouring of many of the species. Among marine mammals, the dugong occurs in the parts about New Guinea and the Caroline Islands. Various sorts of whale are found, and the whaling industry reached the height of its importance about the middle of the 19th century. In considering the marine fauna the remarkable palolo or balolo should be mentioned. This annelid propagates its kind by rising to the surface and dividing itself. The occurrence of this process can be predicted exactly for one day, before sunrise, in October and November, and as both the worm and the fish which prey on it are appreciated by the natives as food the occasions of its appearance are of great importance to them.


Not long after the death of Columbus, and when the Portuguese traders, working from the west, had hardly reached the confines of the Malay Archipelago, the Spaniard Vasco Nunez de Balboa crossed America at its narrowest part and discovered the great ocean to the west of it (1513). The belief in the short and direct westward passage from Europe to the East Indies was thus shaken, but it was still held that some passage was to be found, and in1519-1521Fernao de Magalhaes (Magellan) made the famous voyage in which he discovered the strait which bears his name. Sailing thence north-westward for many weeks, over a sea so calm that he named it El Mar pacifico, he sighted only two small islands. These may have been Puka Puka of the Tuamotu Archipelago and Flint Island; but it may be stated here that the identification of islands sighted by the early explorers is often a matter of conjecture, and that therefore some islands of which the definite discovery must be dated much later had in fact been seen by Europeans at this early period. In this narrative the familiar names of islands are used, irrespective of whether they were given by the first or later discoverers, or are native names. Magellan reached the " Ladrones " (Marianas) in 1521, and voyaged thence to the Philippines, where he was killed in a local war. In1522-1524various voyages of discovery were made on the west coast of America, partly in the hope of finding a strait connecting the two oceans to the region of the central isthmus. In1525-1527Garcia Jofre de Loyasa sailed to the Moluccas, but, like Magellan, missed the bulk of the oceanic islands. About this time, however, the Portuguese sighted the north coast of New Guinea. Fuller knowledge of this coast was acquired by Alvaro de Saavedra (1527-1529), and among later voyages those of Ruy Lopez de Villalobos (1542-1545) and Miguel Lopez de Legaspi (1564-1565) should be mentioned. These, however, like others of the period, did not greatly extend the knowledge of the Pacific islands, for the course between the Spanish American and Asiatic possessions did not lead voyagers among the more extensive archipelagoes. For the same reason the British and Dutch fleets which sailed with the object of harrying the Spaniards, under Sir Francis Drake (1577-1580), Thomas Cavendish (1586-1593)593) and Oliver van Noort (1598-1601), were not, as regards the Pacific, of prime geographical importance. But the theory of the existence of a great southern continent was now also attracting voyagers. Alvaro Mendana de Neyra, after crossing a vast extent of ocean from Peru and sighting only one island, probably in the Ellice group, reached the Solomon Islands. In 1 5951 59 6 he made a second voyage, and though he did not again reach these islands, the development of which was his objective, he discovered the Marquesas Islands, and afterwards Santa Cruz, where, having attempted to found a settlement, he died. Thereafter his pilot, Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, set out with the remainder of the company to make for the Philippines, and on the way discovered Ponape of the Caroline Islands, some of which group, however, had been known to the Portuguese as early as 1527. Quiros returned to Europe, and, obtaining command of a fleet, made a voyage in1605-1607during which he observed some of the Paumotu and Society Islands, and later discovered the small Duff group of the Santa Cruz Islands, passing thence to the main island of the New Hebrides, which he hailed as his objective, the southern continent. One of his commanders, Luis Vaes de Torres, struck off to the north-west, coasted along the south of the Louisiade Archipelago and New Guinea, traversed the strait which bears his name between New Guinea and Australia, and reached the Philippines. In1615-1617two Dutchmen, Jacob Lemaire and Willem Cornelis Schouten, having in view both the discovery of the southern continent and the possibility of establishing relations with the East Indies from the east, took a course which brought them to the north part of the Paumotu Archipelago, thence to part of the Tonga chain, and ultimately to New Pomerania, after which they reached the East Indies. In1642-1643Abel Tasman, working from the east, discovered Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) and the west coast of New Zealand, subsequently reaching the Tonga Islands. Now for a while the tide of discovery slackened. Towards the close of the century the buccaneers extended their activity to the Pacific, but naturally added little to general knowledge. William Dampier, however, making various voyages in 1690-1705, explored the coasts of Australia and New Guinea, and at the opening of the century both the French and the Dutch showed some activity. The Dutchman Jacob Roggeveen, in the course of a voyage round the world in 1721-1722, crossed the Pacific from east to west, and discovered Easter Island, some of the northern islands of the Paumotu Archipelago, and (as is generally supposed) a part of the Samoan group. The voyage of Commodore George (afterwards Lord) Anson in 1740-1744 was for purposes rather of war than of exploration, and Commodore John Byron's voyage in 1765 had little result beyond gaining some additional knowledge of the Paumotu Archipelago.

It is about this time that what may be called the period of rediscovery set in fully. In the ensuing account a constant repetition of the names of the main archipelagoes will be found; it may of course be assumed that each successive voyager added something to the knowledge of them, but on the other hand, as has been said, islands were often rediscovered and renamed in cases where later voyagers took no account of the work of their predecessors, or where the earlier voyagers were unable clearly to define the positions of their discoveries. Moreover, rivalry between contemporary explorers of different nationalities sometimes caused them to ignore each other's work, and added to the confusion of nomenclature among the islands.

In 1767 Samuel Wallis worked through the central part of the Paumotus, and visited Tahiti and the Marianas, while his companion Philip Carteret discovered Pitcairn, and visited Santa Cruz, the Solomons and New Pomerania. The French were now taking a share in the work of discovery, and in 1768 Louis Antoine de Bougainville sailed by way of the central Paumotus, the Society Islands, Samoa, the northern New Hebrides, the south coast of New Guinea and the Louisiade and Bismarck archipelagoes. The next voyages in chronological .order are those of the celebrated Captain James Cook. Within the limits of the area under notice, his first voyage (1769) included visits to Tahiti and the Society group generally, to New Zealand and to the east coast of Australia, his second (1773-1774) to New Zealand, the Paumotu Archipelago, the Society Islands, Tonga and subsequently Easter Island, the Marquesas and the New Hebrides; and his third (1777-1778) to Tonga, the Cook or Norway group, and the Hawaiian Islands, of which, even if they were previously known to the Spaniards, he may be called the discoverer, and where he was subsequently killed. In 1786 Jean Francois Galoup de La Perouse, in the course of the famous voyage from which he never returned, visited Easter Island, Samoa and Tonga. The still more famous voyage of William Bligh of the " Bounty " (1788) was followed by that of Captain Edwards of the " Pandora " (1791), who in the course of his search for Bligh discovered Rotumah and other islands. The Hawaiian Islands came within the purview of George Vancouver, following the course of Cook in 1791. In1792-1793Joseph Antoine d'Entrecasteaux, searching for traces of La Perouse, ranged the islands west of Tonga. In 1797 Captain J. Wilson of the missionary ship " Duff " visited the Society group, Fiji, Tonga and the Marquesas, and added to the knowledge of the Paumotu and Caroline Islands. Another power entered on the field of exploration when the Russians sent Adam Ivan Krusenstern to the Pacific (1803). He was followed by Otto von Kotzebue (1816) and Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen (1819-1821). The work of these three was carried out principally in the easternmost part of Polynesia. In1818-1819the French navigator Louis Claude Desaulses de Freycinet ranged from New Guinea through the Marianas to Hawaii. Two of his countrymen followed him in 1823-1829--Louis Isidore Duperrey and Dumont d'Urville. Kotzebue made a second voyage, accompanied by scientists, in 1823-1826. In1826-1828Frederick William Beechey was at work in the middle parts of the ocean, and Feodor Petrovich Count Liitke, the Russian circumnavigator, in the northern. In 1834 Dr Debell Bennett made scientific researches in the Society, Hawaiian and Marquesas Islands, in 1835 Captain Robert Fitzroy was accompanied by Charles Darwin, and in 1836 sqq., Abel Aubert du Petit-Thouars was carrying on the work of the French in the Pacific. During his voyage of 1837-1840, Dumont d'Urville was again in Polynesia, working westward from the Paumotu and Marquesas Islands by Fiji and the Solomon, Loyalty and Louisiade groups to New Guinea. In 1839 sqq. the first important American expedition was made under Charles Wilkes, who covered a great extent of the ocean from Hawaii to Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand. Among later British explorers may be mentioned Captain J. Elphinstone Erskine (1849) and Captain H. M. Denham, and several important voyages for scientific research were made in the second half of the 19th century, including one from Austria under Captain Wiillerstorf Urbair (1858), and one from Italy in the vessel "Magenta" (1865-1868), which was accompanied by the scientist Dr Enrico Giglioli. The celebrated voyage of H.M.S. "Challenger" (1874-1875) and those of the American vessels " Tuscarora " (1873-1876) and" Albatross " (1888-1892) may complete the tale.

Whalers, sealers and traders followed in the wake of explorers, the traders dealing chiefly in copra, trepang, pearls, tortoiseshell, &c. The first actual settlers in the islands were largely men of bad character - deserting sailors, escapers from the penal settlements in Australia and others. It is not to be supposed that there were no orderly colonists, but that the natives suffered much at the hands of Europeans and Americans is only too clear. The class of traders who made a living by disreputable means and attempted to keep a monopoly of the island on which they settled, became notorious under the name of " beachcombers," and for each of the many dark chapters in Polynesian history there must have been many more unwritten. The kidnapping of natives for the South American and Australian labour markets was common. It cannot be denied that there has been actual deterioration of the native races, and elimination in their numbers, consequent upon contact with Europeans and Americans (see further, Polynesia). The romantic character of island-history has perhaps, however, tended to emphasize its dark side, and it is well to turn from it to recognize the work of the missionaries, who found in the Pacific one of their most extensive and important fields of labour, and have exercised not only a moral, but also a profound political influence in the islands since the London Missionary Society first established its agents in Tahiti in 1797. Many of them, moreover, have added greatly to the scientific knowledge of the islands and their inhabitants. The imposition of strict rules of life upon the natives was in some instances carried too far; in others their conversion to Christianity was little more than nominal, but cases of this sort are overshadowed by the fine work of William Ellis and John Williams (c. 1818) and many of their successors.

The discovery of sandalwood in Fiji in 1804, and the establishment of a trade therein, made that group a centre of interest in the early modern history of the Pacific islands. Moreover the London Missionary Society, having worked westward from its headquarters in Tahiti to Tonga as early as 1797, founded a settlement in Fiji in 1835. Meanwhile the white traders in Fiji had played an intimate part in the internal political affairs of the group, and in 1858 King Thakombau, being threatened with reprisals by the American consul on account of certain losses of property which he had sustained, asked for British protection, but did not obtain it. The British, however, were paramount among the white population, and as by 1870 not only American, but also German influence was extending through the islands (the first German government vessel visited Fiji in 1872), annexation was urged on Great Britain by Australia and New Zealand. Meanwhile the labour traffic, which had been initiated, so far as the, Pacific islands were concerned, by an unsuccessful attempt in 1847 to employ New Hebridean labourers on a settlement near the present township of Eden in New South Wales, had attained considerable proportions, had been improperly exploited and, as already indicated, had led the natives to retaliation, sometimes without discernment, a notorious example of this (as was generally considered) being the murder of Bishop Patteson in 1871. In 1872 an act was passed by the British government to regulate the labour traffic; Fiji was annexed in 1874, and in 1875 another act established the post of the British high commissioner.

In 1842 the French had formally annexed the Marquesas Islands; and subsequently extended their sphere, as shown in the table at the outset of this article, both in the east of Polynesia and in the south of Melanesia. In some of the island-groups independent native states were recognized for some time by the powers, as in the case of Hawaii, which, after the deposition of the queen in 1893 and the proclamation of a republic in 1894, was annexed to the United States of America only in 1898, or, again, in the case of Tonga, which provided a curious example of the subordination of a native organization to unauthorized foreign influence. The partition of Polynesia was completed in 1899, when Samoa was divided between Germany and the United States. In Micronesia, since the discoveries of the early Spanish navigators, the Carolines, Mariana and Pelew Islands had been recognized as Spanish territory until 1885, when Germany began to establish herself in the first-named group. Spain had never occupied this group, but protested against the German action, and Pope Leo XIII. as arbitrator awarded the Carolines to her. Thereafter Spain made attempts at occupation, but serious conflicts with the natives ensued, and in 1899 the islands were sold to Germany, which thus became the predominating power in Micronesia. When Germany acquired the Bismarck Archipelago in Melanesia the introduction of German names (New Pomerania, Neu Pommern, for New Britain; Neu Mecklenburg for New Ireland; Neu Langenburg for the Duke of York Group, &c.) met with no little protest as contrary to precedent and international etiquette. The provision for the joint influence of Great Britain and France over the New Hebrides (1906) brought these islands into some prominence owing to the hostile criticism directed against the British government both in Australia and at home. The partition of the Pacific islands never led to any serious friction between the powers, though the acquisition of Hawaii was attempted by Britain, France and Japan before the United States annexed the group, and the negotiations as to Samoa threatened trouble for a while. There were occasional native risings, as in Samoa (where, however, the fighting was rather in the nature of civil warfare), the French possessions in eastern Polynesia, and the New Hebrides, apart from attacks on individual settlers or visitors, which have occurred here and there from the earliest period of exploration.


Of the British possessions among the islands of the Pacific, Fiji is a colony, and its governor is also high commissioner for the western Pacific. In this capacity, assisted by deputies and resident commissioners, he exercises jurisdiction over all the islands except Fiji and those islands which are attached to New Zealand and New South Wales. Some of the islands (e.g. Tonga) are native states under British protection. Pitcairn, in accordance with its peculiar conditions of settlement, has a peculiar system of local government. The New Hebrides are under a mixed British and French commission. The Hawaiian Islands forma territory of the United States of America and are administered as such; Guam is a naval station, as is Tutuila of the Samoan Islands, where the commandant exercises the functions of governor. New Caledonia is a French colony under a governor; the more easterly French islands are grouped together under the title of the French Establishments in Oceania, and are administered by a governor, privy council, administrative council, &c., Papeete in Tahiti being the capital. The seat of government of the German protectorate of Kaiser Wilhelm's Land (New Guinea) is Herbertshohe in the Bismarck Archipelago. The administrative area includes the German Solomon Islands and the Caroline, Pelew and Mariana Islands, which are divided into three administrative groups - the eastern Carolines, western Carolines and Marianas. The Marshall Islands form a " district " (Bezirk ) within the same administrative area. The German Samoan Islands are under an imperial governor.


In the oceanic islands of the Pacific three different peoples occur, who have been called Melanesians, Polynesians and Micronesians.' These form themselves naturally into two broad but very distinct divisions - the dark and brown races; the first division being represented by the Melanesians, and the Polynesians and Micronesians together forming the second. The Melanesians, sometimes called Papuans (q.v,, the Malay name for the natives of New Guinea, the headquarters of the race), are physically negroid in type, nearly black, with crisp curly hair, flat noses and thick lips. In all essentials they agree with the African type: such variations as there are, for example, the more developed eyebrow ridges, narrower, often prominent nose, and somewhat higher narrower skull, obviously owing their existence to crossing with the Malay or the Polynesian races. The oceanic black peoples must thus be regarded as having a connexion more or less remote with the African negroes. Whether the two families have a common ancestor in the negritos of Malaysia and the Indian archipelago, or whether Papuan and Negrito are alike branches of an aboriginal African race, is a problem yet to be solved. But if their origin is unknown, there is little doubt that the Melanesians were the earliest occupants of the oceanic world, possibly reaching it from Malaysia. They undoubtedly constitute the oldest ethnic stock sometimes modified on the spot by crossings with migratory peoples (Malays, Polynesians); sometimes, as in the eastern Pacific, giving way entirely before the invaders. The traditions of many of the Polynesian islanders refer to a black indigenous race which occupied their islands when their ancestors arrived, and the black woolly-haired Papuan type is not only found to-day in Melanesia proper, but traces of it occur throughout Polynesia and Micronesia. That the oceanic blacks form one family there can be no doubt, and it is evidence of the immensely remote date at which their dispersion began that they have a multitude of languages often unintelligible except locally, and an extraordinary variety of insular customs: differentiations which must have needed centuries to be effected. Furthermore the Rev. R. H. Codrington (Melanesian Languages ) has adduced evidence to prove that Melanesia is the most primitive form of the oceanic stock-language, and that both Malays and Polynesians speak later dialects of this archaic form of speech. The Melanesians then, must be regarded as the aborigines of Oceania. How they came to occupy the region it is impossible to say. Evidence exists as to the migrations of the brown races; but there is nothing to explain how the blacks came to inhabit the isolated Pacific islands. In this connexion it is a curious fact, and one which deepens the mystery, that, unlike the Polynesian peoples, who are all born sailors, the blacks are s

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Pacific Ocean'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​p/pacific-ocean.html. 1910.
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