Does Earth have 5 named oceans now

5th July 2021


On World Oceans Day, National Geographic cartographers say the swift current circling Antarctica keeps the waters there separate, therefore worthy of their own name. Accordingly they announced, beginning June 8, it will acknowledge the Southern Ocean as the Earth’s fifth ocean.

To identify the Southern Ocean has more reasons.

The distinct currents, the unique wildlife and other ecological features segregate it from the Arctic, Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans.

The 'newly' named ocean is surround Antarctica out to 60 degrees south latitude, excluding the Drake Passage and Scotia Sea.

National Geographic announces its decision

“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,” says Seth Sykora-Bodie, a marine scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a National Geographic Explorer.

Marine biologist and National Geographic Explorer at Large Sylvia Earle praised the cartographic update.

“While there is but one interconnected ocean, bravo to National Geographic for officially recognizing the body of water surrounding Antarctica as the Southern Ocean.”

And continued- “Rimmed by the formidably swift Antarctic Circumpolar Current, it is the only ocean to touch three others and to completely embrace a continent rather than being embraced by them.”

“The Southern Ocean has long been recognized by scientists,” says National Geographic Society Geographer Alex Tait.

Geographers debated whether the waters around Antarctica had enough unique characteristics to deserve their own name, or whether they were simply cold, southern extensions of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans.

“This change was taking to recognize it because of its ecological separation.” Tait says.

The change, he adds, aligns with the Society’s initiative to conserve the world’s oceans, focusing public awareness onto a region in particular need of a conservation spotlight.

The Southern Ocean has crucial impact on Earth’s climate:

It is defined by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC).

The ACC flows from west to east around Antarctica, latitude of 60 degrees south—the line that is now defined as the northern boundary of the Southern Ocean. Inside the ACC, the waters are colder and slightly less salty than ocean waters to the north.

Extending from the surface to the ocean floor, the ACC transports more water than any other ocean current. It pulls in waters from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, helping drive a global circulation system, which transports heat around the planet.

Cold, dense water that sinks to the ocean floor off Antarctica also helps store carbon in the deep ocean.

Thousands of species live there and nowhere else. The Southern Ocean “encompasses unique and fragile marine ecosystems- notes National Geographic Explorer in Residence Enric Sala.

“Many nations across the world support the protection of some of these areas from industrial fishing,” Sala says.

Generally, National Geographic has followed the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) on marine names. While not solely liable for determining them, the IHO works with the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names to standardize names on an international scale. The IHO recognized the Southern Ocean in its 1937 guidelines but repealed that designation in 1953, citing controversy. The boundaries of this ocean were proposed again in 2000. It has deliberated on the matter since but has yet to receive full agreement from its members to reinstate the Southern Ocean.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names, however, has used the name since 1999. And in February, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officially recognized the Southern Ocean as a detached body of water.

Szilvia Kullai