71 percent of Earth is covered in water, but we’ve only ever had four oceans. That seemed a little unfair, so the kind people at the National Geographic (Nat Geo) magazine decided to remedy it. And the world now has one more ocean! They made this announcement on World Ocean Day. So, which ocean has received this title of honor, you ask. It is none other than the Southern Ocean, i.e., the ocean surrounding Antarctica.
Nat Geo stated that since it began making maps in 1915, it has recognized four oceans — the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic Oceans. After debating this topic for years, it finally decided that starting 8 June; it will recognize the Southern Ocean as the world’s fifth ocean.
“The Southern Ocean has long been recognized by scientists, but because there was never an agreement internationally, we never officially recognized it,” says National Geographic Society Geographer Alex Tait.
The Southern Ocean was a point of controversy. Some geographers wondered if it had enough unique characteristics to warrant a name of its own or a colder extension to the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans.
In 1999, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recognized the Southern Ocean as the fifth body of water. But in 2000, all members of the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO) did not agree. The IHO ensures all seas, oceans, and navigable waters are properly surveyed and charted.
Once convinced this ocean deserved its own name, Nat Geo has decided that most of the waters surrounding Antarctica till 60 degrees south latitude (excluding the Drake Passage and the Scotia Sea) will make up the Southern Ocean.
“Anyone who has been there will struggle to explain what’s so mesmerizing about it, but they’ll all agree that the glaciers are bluer, the air colder, the mountains more intimidating, and the landscapes more captivating than anywhere else you can go,” said Seth Sykora-Bodie, a marine scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a National Geographic Explorer.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Enric Sala, National Geographic resident explorer, describes the fifth ocean as “a distinct water body characterized by the powerful Antarctic Circumpolar Current that flows eastward, perpetually chasing itself around Antarctica.”
He referred to the body as an “oceanic ring at the end of the world that connects the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans.”
Nat Geo hopes to draw attention to this ocean by officially recognizing the ocean to promote conservation efforts here.
Another field this change will have an impact on is education.
Tait said, “Students learn information about the ocean world through what oceans you’re studying. If you don’t include the Southern Ocean, then you don’t learn the specifics of it and how important it is.”
A Nat Geo report states that while other oceans are defined by their nearby continents, the Southern Ocean is defined by its current. Called Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), this current is also known as the Conveyor Belt because it helps circulate heat around the Earth. It also helps in carbon storage as the cold water sinks to the ocean floor.
The ACC was created around 34 million years ago when Antarctica broke off from Southern America. It flows west to east around Antarctica, and the waters in the south are said to be colder and less salty than those in the north.
A little history
The term “ocean” was first used as a name for a river that was thought to encircle the Earth. The Ancient Greeks named this river after the Titan Oceanus, Uranus (Sky), and Gaia (Earth). He was married to Titan Tethys, the goddess of the primal waters that nourished the Earth. Oceanus was the father to numerous sons (called the river gods) and numerous daughters, the Oceanids.