Kid's Guide to Major Bodies of Water

Did you know that approximately 71 percent of Earth's surface is covered with water? It's true! There are more than 326 million trillion gallons of water on Earth; that's quite a lot of water! About 97 percent of that water is saltwater, while the small remainder is fresh, drinkable water. There are many different types of bodies of water covering the Earth's surface. Oceans and seas are the largest bodies of water and contain almost all of Earth's salt water. Lakes and Rivers, while much smaller, contain most of the world's fresh liquid surface water. Let's take a look at some of these great bodies of water.


An ocean is defined as a large expanse of saltwater. There are five oceans on Earth that all interconnect to make one world ocean.


The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the five oceans, stretches over 63.8 million square miles and makes up about 46 percent of Earth's total water surface. It also covers about one third of Earth's total surface, making it larger than all of Earth's land area combined. The ocean extends from Asia and Australia in the Eastern hemisphere to the Americas in the Western hemisphere and from the Arctic Ocean in the North to Antarctica in the South. The ocean is divided at the equator into the North Pacific and South Pacific. The Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, located in the western North Pacific, is the deepest point of the ocean and the world, extending 36,000 ft. below sea level.


The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest ocean, with a total area of approximately 41.1 million square miles. It covers about 22 percent of the Earth's surface and makes up 29 percent of the world's water surface area. It is bounded by the Americas to west and Europe and Africa to the East. The ocean also connects to the Arctic Ocean in the north, the Pacific Ocean in the southwest, the Indian Ocean in the southeast, and the Southern Ocean to the south. Like the Pacific, the Atlantic is also divided into northern and southern oceans by the equator. The deepest point of the Atlantic is the Milwaukee Deep in the Puerto Rico Trench. Located on the boundary of the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, it has a depth of 28,373 ft. or 5.3 miles. At its widest, the Atlantic stretches over 4,000 miles.


With 28.4 million square miles, the Indian Ocean is the third largest ocean in the world. It makes up approximately 20 percent of all water on the Earth's surface. The ocean is surrounded by Asia to the north, Africa to the west, Australia to the east and Antarctica to the south. The Diamantina Deep in the Sundra Trench, located in the southeastern region of the ocean, has a depth of 26,401 ft., making it the deepest point of the ocean.


The Southern Ocean, also known as the Antarctica Ocean, is the southernmost body of water that completely surrounds the continent of Antarctica. It is the second smallest ocean with 7.8 million square miles. The deepest point in the Southern Ocean is in the South Sandwich Trench, with a maximum depth of 23,736 ft.


The Arctic Ocean is both the smallest and shallowest of the world's five oceans. It is the northern most body of water and located mostly in the Arctic north polar region. The Arctic Ocean covers 5.4 million square miles and is mostly bounded by Eurasia and North America. Much of the ocean is covered by sea ice, which varies in area and thickness seasonally. The deepest point of the Arctic is 17,881 ft. at the Eurasia Basin.


Often, people use the words ocean and sea interchangeably; however, a sea is defined as a smaller subdivision of a larger body of saltwater, usually found on the perimeter of an ocean and is partially enclosed by land.

South China Sea

The South China Sea is located in the Pacific Ocean, south of China, east of Vietnam, west of the Philippines, and north of Malaysia. The sea also connects to the Taiwan Strait in the Northeast and the Gulf of Thailand in the southeast. It has a maximum depth of 16,457 ft. at the China Sea Basin and an area of 1.4 million square miles, making it the largest sea in the world.

Caribbean Sea

The Caribbean Sea is located in the tropic region of the western Atlantic Ocean. It is bounded by South America to the south, the Yucatan Peninsula to the west, and the Greater and Lesser Antilles to the north and east, respectively. The sea, surrounding islands and adjacent coasts are collectively known as The Caribbean. The sea is 1.06 million square miles and the deepest point is 25,220 feet, known as the Cayman Trough, located between the Cayman Islands and Jamaica.

Mediterranean Sea

The Mediterranean Sea is a sea that is almost completely surrounded by land in the Mediterranean region of the world. It connects to the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar and is subdivided into smaller water bodies. It is enclosed by 21 countries on 3 continents; Europe to the north, the southwestern region of Asia, known as Levant to the east, and North Africa to the south. The sea has a total area of 970,000 square miles and its maximum depth is 16,800 ft. found off the coast of Greece.

Bering Sea

The Bering Sea is located in the northernmost part of the Pacific Ocean between Russia, to the west, and Alaska to the east. It is a marginal sea, which means it is partially enclosed by the peninsulas and archipelagos of Russia and Alaska. The sea connects to the Bering Strait to the far north, which connects the sea to the Arctic Ocean. The sea covers over 770,000 square miles and comprises of shallow continental shelves that meet and slope down to a deep water basin.

Gulf of Mexico

The Gulf of Mexico is a subdivision of the western Atlantic Ocean, located just northwest of the Caribbean Sea. It is bordered by the United States to the north, the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico to the south, and Cuba to the east. The gulf connects to the Atlantic Ocean through the Florida straits between the United States and Cuba and to the Caribbean Sea through the Yucatan Channel located between Cuba and Mexico. It has an area of 600,000 square miles and its deepest point is more than 12,000 feet at the Sigsbee Deep.


A lake is defined as a large body of fresh or salt water that is completely surrounded by land.

Caspian Sea

Despite the name, the Caspian Sea is actually a lake, as it is completely landlocked and has no outflowing water source or outlet to the ocean. It is referred to as a sea due to its sheer size and water salinity, which is about a third of the salinity of most seawater. The Caspian Sea is the largest landlocked body of water with an area of 143,200 square miles. It is located between Europe and Asia and is surrounded by five countries. Russia lies to the northwest, Kazakhstan to the northeast, Turkmenistan to the southeast, Iran to the south, and Azerbaijan to the west.

Lake Superior

Lake Superior is the largest of the five Great Lakes, which are located in North America. The lake is shared by Canada and the United States, with Ontario to the north, Minnesota to the west, and Wisconsin and Michigan to the south. The lake has an average depth of 483 feet and a maximum depth of 1,332 feet. With an area of 31,700 square miles, it is considered the largest freshwater lake by area in the world.

Lake Victoria

Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Africa and second largest freshwater lake in the world, with an area of 26,828 square miles. The lake is shared by the countries of Tanzania to the south, Uganda to the north and Kenya to the northeast. The lake is rather shallow, with an average depth of 130 feet and a maximum depth of only 272 feet.

Lake Huron

Lake Huron is the second largest, by area, of the five great lakes located in North America. It is shared by Ontario, Canada to the east and Michigan, United States to the west. The lake has a surface area of 23,000 square miles, an average depth of 195 feet and a maximum depth of 750 feet.

Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan is one of the five Great Lakes located in North America. It is the third largest Great Lake by area and second largest Great Lake by volume. It is connected to Lake Huron through the Straits of Mackinac to the east. The lake is shared by Wisconsin to the west, Illinois and Indiana to the south, and Michigan to east. Lake Michigan has an area of 22,300 square miles, an average depth of 279 feet and a maximum depth of 923 feet.


A river is defined as a large natural flow of fresh water that leads to a sea, lake or other body of water.

Nile River

The Nile River is a north-flowing river located in the northeastern portion of Africa. It is 4,258 miles long, making it the longest river in the world. It is an international river shared by eleven African countries. The river has two major tributaries, the White Nile and the Blue Nile, and empties into the Mediterranean Sea.

Amazon River

The Amazon River is located in South America and is considered the largest river by discharge of water in the world. Its basin is also the largest drainage basin in the world, with and area of about 2.7 million square miles. The river runs through 7 countries, Guyana, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. It has many sources throughout the Andes Mountains, flows in an easterly direction for approximately 4,000 miles and finally empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The Amazon river and its over 1,000 tributaries make up a series of complex river systems that sprawl out across most of north and central South America.


The Yangtze, also known in China as the Chang Jiang or Yangzi, is the longest river in Asia and the third longest in the world. The river starts in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in Qinghai, China, flows eastward solely through China for 3,915 miles and empties into the East China Sea at Shanghai.


Separately, The Missouri River is actually the longest river in North America at 2,341 miles long; however, since it is a tributary of the Mississippi River, their lengths are combined to form the Mississippi-Missouri River System. At approximately 3,710 miles long, this combined length makes it the longest river in North America and fourth longest in the world. The Missouri River starts in Montana and flows south and east before emptying into the Mississippi river in Missouri. The Mississippi River's source is Lake Itasca in Minnesota and flows south before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico at Louisiana.


With a length of 3,442 miles, the Yenisei (or Yenisey) River is the fifth longest river in the world. It starts in Mongolia, flows north through Russia and empties into the Yenisei Gulf of the Arctic Ocean. It has 3 major tributaries, the Angara, Nizhnyaya Tunguska and Tuba rivers and has a drainage basin area of 996,144 square miles.

Written By: Lynn Taylor