Continuous, submarine mountain chain extending approximately 50,000 mi (80,000 km) through all the world's oceans, separating them into distinct basins. The main ridge extends down the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, passes between Africa and Antarctica, turns north to the Indian Ocean, then continues between Australia, New Zealand, and Antarctica and across the Pacific basin to the mouth of the Gulf of California. Lateral ridges extend from islands on the axis of the oceanic ridge to coasts of adjacent continents. The oceanic ridge system is the largest feature of the Earth's surface after the continents and the ocean basins themselves; it is explained by the theory of plate tectonics as a boundary between diverging plates where molten rock is brought up from deep beneath the Earth's crust. See also subduction zone.
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