Updated June 24, 2021, 10:14am
An update to your geographical knowledge: There are no longer four oceans, but five. The National Geographic Society officially recognized the Southern Ocean that surrounds Antarctica as an ocean.
Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic Oceans: produces four. But there’s one missing from this series—at least according to the National Geographic Society.
The Society, which not only publishes a magazine but also produces maps, has officially recognized the Antarctic Sea as the fifth ocean, the “Southern Ocean”. In the future, water will be described on maps and atlases.
Antarctica is located at the southern tip of our planet, and is the third smallest continent in the world after Australia/Oceania and Europe. The three great oceans meet around the land mass of Antarctica: the vast Pacific Ocean between South America and Australia, the Atlantic Ocean between South America and Africa, and the Indian Ocean, which borders Africa and Australia/Oceania.
The Southern Ocean is an independent body of water
It is associated with a strong ocean current, the Antarctic Oceanic Current (ACC). The ACC covers the whole of Antarctica and carries more water than any other ocean current in the world. Inside the ACC, the water is cooler and less salty.
According to the National Geographic Society, the body of water where the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans meet is thus more than just the cold edge of the rest of the oceans. The Southern Ocean is an independent body of water. The 60th degree of southern latitude must be taken as a maximum.
If you look at the other end of the world, it makes sense, because the sea in the Arctic region is also considered the Arctic Ocean.
Researchers have been talking about the “Southern Ocean” for decades
And the approach to defining the Southern Ocean as an ocean isn’t entirely new either. “Scientists have long recognized the Southern Ocean, but because there was never an international agreement, we never formally recognized it,” said Alex Tate, a geographer with the National Geographic Society.
The renaming of the water body is primarily aimed at an educational purpose: As an ocean, National Geographic Society leaders hope the Southern Ocean and its unique ecosystem will receive more attention. In a best-case scenario, more attention will follow with efforts to protect and conserve the area.
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