1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Indian Ocean

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INDIAN OCEAN, the ocean bounded N. by India and Persia; W. by Arabia and Africa, and the meridian passing southwards from Cape Agulhas; and E. by Farther India, the Sunda Islands, West and South Australia, and the meridian passing through South Cape in Tasmania. As in the case of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the southern boundary is taken at either 40° S., the line of separation from the great Southern Ocean, or, if the belt of this ocean between the two meridians named be included, at the Antarctic Circle. It attains its greatest breadth, more than 6000 m. between the south points of Africa and Australia, and becomes steadily narrower towards the north, until it is divided by the Indian peninsula into two arms, the Arabian Sea on the west and the Bay of Bengal on the east. Both branches meet the coast of Asia almost exactly on the Tropic of Cancer, but the Arabian Sea communicates with the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf by the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb and Ormuz respectively. Both of these, again, extend in a north-westerly direction to 30° N. Murray gives the total area, reckoning to 40° S. and including the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, as 17,320,550 English square miles, equivalent to 13,042,000 geographical square miles. Karstens gives the area as 48,182,413 square kilometres, or 14,001,000 geographical square miles; of these 10,842,000 square kilometres, or 3,150,000 geographical square miles, about 22% of the whole, lie north of the equator. For the area from 40° S. to the Antarctic Circle, Murray gives 9,372,600 English square miles, equivalent to 7,057,568 geographical square miles, and Karstens 24,718,000 square kilometres, equivalent to 7,182,474 geographical square miles. The Indian Ocean receives few large rivers, the chief being the Zambezi, the Shat-el-Arab, the Indus, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Irawadi. Murray estimates the total land area draining to the Indian Ocean at 5,050,000 geographical square miles, almost the same as that draining to the Pacific. The annual rainfall draining from this area is estimated at 4380 cubic miles.

Relief.—Large portions of the bed still remain unexplored, but a fair knowledge of its general form has been gained from the soundings of H.M.S. “Challenger,” the German “Gazelle” Expedition, and various cable ships, and in 1898 information was greatly added to by the German “Valdivia” Expedition. A ridge, less than 2000 fathoms from the surface, extends south-eastwards from the Cape. This ridge, on which the Crozet Islands and Kerguelen are situated, is directly connected with the submarine plateau of the Antarctic. From it the depth increases north-eastwards, and the greatest depression is found in the angle between Australia and the Sunda Islands, where “Wharton deep,” below the 3000-fathom line, covers an area of nearly 50,000 sq. m. Immediately to the north of Wharton deep is the smaller “Maclear deep,” and the long narrow “Jeffreys deep” off the south of Australia completes the list of depressions below 3000 fathoms in the Indian Ocean. The 2000-fathom line approaches close to the coast except (1) in the Bay of Bengal, which it does not enter; (2) to the south-west of India along a ridge on which are the Laccadive and Maldive Islands; and (3) in the Mozambique Channel, and on a bank north and east of Madagascar, on which are the Seychelles, Mascarene Islands and other groups.

Islands.—Like the Pacific, the Indian Ocean contains more islands in the western than in the eastern half. Towards the centre, the Maldive, Chagos and Cocos groups are of characteristic coral formation, and coral reefs occur on most parts of the tropical coasts. There are many volcanic islands, as Mauritius, the Crozet Islands, and St Paul’s. The chief continental islands are Madagascar, Sokotra and Ceylon. Kerguelen, a desolate and uninhabited island near the centre of the Indian Ocean at its southern border, is noteworthy as providing a base station for Antarctic exploration.

Deposits.—The bottom of the Bay of Bengal, of the northern part of the Arabian Sea, of the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, and of the narrow coastal strips on the east and west sides of the ocean, are chiefly covered by blue and green muds. Off the African coasts there are large deposits of Glauconitic sands and muds at depths down to 1000 fathoms, and on banks where coral formation occurs there are large deposits of coral muds and sands. In the deeper parts the bed of the ocean is covered on the west and south by Globigerina ooze except for an elongated patch of red clay extending most of the distance from Sokotra to the Maldives. The red clay covers a nearly square area in the eastern part of the basin bounded on two sides by the Sunda Islands and the west coast of Australia, as well as two strips extending east and west from the southern margin of the square along the south of Australia and nearly to Madagascar. In the northern portion of the square, north and east of Wharton deep, the red clay is replaced over a large tract by Radiolarian ooze.

Temperature.—The mean temperature of the surface water is over 80° F. in all parts north of 13° S., except in the north-west of the Arabian Sea, where it is somewhat lower. South of 13° S. temperature falls uniformly and quickly to the Southern Ocean. Between the depths of 100 and 1000 fathoms temperature is high in the north-west, and in the south centre and south-west, and low in the north-east, the type of distribution remaining substantially the same. At 1500 fathoms temperature has become very uniform, ranging between 35° and 37° F., but still exhibiting the same type of distribution, though in a very degenerate form.

Salinity.—The saltest surface water is found in (a) the Arabian Sea and (b) along a belt extending from West Australia to South Africa, the highest salinity in this belt occurring at the Australian end. South of the belt salinity falls quickly as latitude increases, while to the north of it, in the monsoon region, the surface water is very fresh off the African coast and to the north-east. Little is known with certainty about the distribution of salinity in the depths, the number of trustworthy observations available being still very small. Probably the northern and north-eastern region, within the monsoon area, contains relatively fresh water down to very considerable depths.

Circulation.—North of the equator the surface circulation is under the control of the monsoons, and changes with them, the currents consisting chiefly of north-east and south-west drifts in the open sea, and induced streams following the coasts. During the northern summer the south-west monsoon, which is sufficiently strong to bring navigation practically to a standstill except for powerful steamers, sets up a strong north-easterly drift in the Arabian Sea, and the water removed from the east African coast is replaced by the upwelling of cold water from below; this is one of the best illustrations of this action extant. Along the line of the equator the Indian counter-current flows eastwards all the year round, acting as compensation to the great Equatorial current flowing westwards between the parallels of 7° and 20° S. The equatorial current, on meeting the northern extremity of Madagascar, sends a branch southwards along the east coast of that island, sometimes called the Mascarene current. When the main equatorial current reaches the African coast a minor stream is sent northwards to the source of the Indian counter-current, but the discharge is chiefly by the Mozambique current, which south of Cape Corrientes becomes the Agulhas current, one of the most powerful stream currents of the globe. On the west coast of Madagascar and on the banks of the African coast south of 30° S., reaction currents or “back-drifts” move in the opposite direction along the flanks of the Agulhas current; these back-drifts are of great importance to navigation. On clearing the land south of the Cape the waters of the Agulhas current meet those of the west wind drift of the Southern Ocean, and mingle with them in such a manner as to produce, by interdigitation, alternate strips of warm and cold water, which are met with at great distances south-west and south of the Cape. Between South Africa and Australia the waters form a part of the great west wind drift. The waters of this drift are, in general, of very low temperature, but it is remarkable that the interdigitation just mentioned continues far to the eastward, at least as far as Kerguelen. This fact is probably due partly to the actual intrusion of warm water from the Mascarene current east of Madagascar, and partly to the circumstance that the different temperatures of the waters are so compensated by their differences of salinity that they have almost precisely the same specific gravity in situ. The west wind drift sends a stream northwards along the west coast of Australia, the West Australia current, the homologue of the Benguela current in the South Atlantic. The principal feature in the circulation in the depths of the Indian Ocean is a slow movement of Antarctic water northwards along the bottom to take the place of that removed from the surface by evaporation, and by currents in the lower latitudes. Little is known beyond the bare fact that such movement does take place.  (H. N. D.)