National Geographic announced on Tuesday that it officially recognizes the water mass around Antarctica as the fifth ocean on Earth: the Southern Ocean.
The change marks the first time in more than a century that the organization has redrawn the world’s ocean maps, which historically include only four: the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Arctic Oceans.
“The Southern Ocean has long been recognized by scientists, but since there has never been an international agreement, we have never officially recognized it,” National Geographic Society geographer Alex Tate told the magazine.
The southern ocean stretches from Antarctica’s coastline to 60 degrees south latitude, with the exception of the Drake Pass and the Sea of Scotland, according to National Geographic. The newest water basin makes it the second smallest, after the Arctic.
The waters surrounding the southern continent have various environmental characteristics, including its unique current patterns, better known as the Antarctic Circumpolar Current or ACC, according to the magazine.
The ACC is making the waters around Antarctica colder and slightly less salty than those in the north, helping to transport heat around the world and store carbon in the deep ocean – all of which have a decisive impact on the planet, National Geographic reported.
The change deviated from the guidelines outlined by the International Hydrographic Organization, which standardizes sea mapping and official names.
The organization has not yet accepted a proposal submitted in 2000 to add the Southern Ocean to the world map, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. However, most countries, including the United States, recognize the water body as different.
Tate told National Geographic that he hoped the organisation’s new policy would have a huge impact on education.
“Students learn information about the ocean world through the oceans you study,” he said. “If you don’t include the Southern Ocean, then you don’t learn the specifics of it and how important it is.”