The Atlantic Ocean occupies an elongated, S-shaped basin extending longitudinally between Eurasia and Africa to the east, and the Americas to the west. As one component of the interconnected global ocean, it is connected in the north to the Arctic Ocean, to the Pacific Ocean in the southwest, the Indian Ocean in the southeast, and the Southern Ocean in the south (other definitions describe the Atlantic as extending southward to Antarctica). The Equatorial Counter Current subdivides it into the North Atlantic Ocean and the South Atlantic Ocean at about 8°N.
Scientific explorations of the Atlantic include the Challenger expedition, the German Meteor expedition, Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the United States Navy Hydrographic Office.
The oldest known mentions of an "Atlantic" sea come from Stesichorus around mid-sixth century BC (Sch. A. R. 1. 211): Atlantikoi pelágei (Greek: Ἀτλαντικῷ πελάγει; English: 'the Atlantic sea'; etym. 'Sea of Atlantis') and in The Histories of Herodotus around 450 BC (Hdt. 1.202.4): Atlantis thalassa (Greek: Ἀτλαντὶς θάλασσα; English: 'Sea of Atlantis' or 'the Atlantis sea') where the name refers to "the sea beyond the pillars of Heracles" which is said to be part of the ocean that surrounds all land. Thus, on one hand, the name refers to Atlas, the Titan in Greek mythology, who supported the heavens and who later appeared as a frontispiece in Medieval maps and also lent his name to modern atlases. On the other hand, to early Greek sailors and in Ancient Greek mythological literature such as the Iliad and the Odyssey, this all-encompassing ocean was instead known as Oceanus, the gigantic river that encircled the world; in contrast to the enclosed seas well-known to the Greeks: the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. In contrast, the term "Atlantic" originally referred specifically to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and the sea off the Strait of Gibraltar and the North African coast. The Greek word thalassa has been reused by scientists for the huge Panthalassa ocean that surrounded the supercontinent Pangaea hundreds of million years ago.
The term "Aethiopian Ocean", derived from Ancient Ethiopia, was applied to the Southern Atlantic as late as the mid-19th century. During the Age of Discovery, the Atlantic was also known to English cartographers as the Great Western Ocean.
The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) defined the limits of the oceans and seas in 1953, but some of these definitions have been revised since then and some are not used by various authorities, institutions, and countries, see for example the CIA World Factbook. Correspondingly, the extent and number of oceans and seas varies.