For the first time since it began mapping more than a century ago, the National Geographic Society has said it will recognize the Southern Ocean as the world’s fifth ocean.
Earlier, the nonprofit recognized four oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Arctic.
The Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica, has long been recognized by scientists, but the society’s geographer Alex Tate said in an article announcing the decision that because there has never been an international consensus, the National Geographic Society has never officially recognized it.
“I am pleased that we are taking the step of officially recognizing the Southern Ocean as the fifth ocean in the world,”
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According to the article, cartographers have discussed whether the waters are just an extension of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
Did the cool body need enough defining characteristics to turn it into a formal ocean?
National Geographic says the Southern Ocean is defined by an approximately 34 million-year-old current called the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC).
The waters in the ACC, which flow from west to east, are reported to be colder and less salty than northern ocean waters.
The ACC also transports more water than any other ocean current, bringing in water from the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans and supplying a global circulation system known as the “conveyor belt.”
The ever-moving deep-ocean circulation system transports heat around the world, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
In addition, National Geographic notes that the cold and dense water that falls to the ocean floor of Antarctica helps store carbon – a climate factor – and that the water flowing through the ACC warms.
“We have chosen to update our Maps Policy to identify the Southern Ocean primarily because of its different environmental characteristics. This includes the polar currents and winds that isolate Antarctica, the temperature and salinity gradients and the resulting impact on the Earth’s climate,” he said. Tait, noting that focusing on the oceans is “an important part of geography education.”
Another factor for the announcement is the “ecologically different” environment of the ocean, with unique marine ecosystems that are currently threatened by industrial fishing.
“By paying attention to the Southern Ocean, the National Geographic Society hopes to promote its conservation,” the paper said.
“We hope that recognizing the Southern Ocean as the fifth ocean on Earth will draw attention to the unique protections urgently needed in this region. This includes, but is not limited to, its unique and fragile marine ecosystems, which are home to magnificent marine life. such as whales, penguins, seals and fish species, “Tait. “As climate change, we need to provide protected areas in all regions of the ocean, including the Southern Ocean.”
The oceans, made up of salt water, cover more than 70% of the Earth and about 97% of the planet’s water is in the ocean.
To date, over 80% of the world’s oceans have never been mapped or explored.
While the National Geographic Society has been updating its maps for decades, major revisions are unusual and the maps generally follow the International Hydrographic Organization’s (IHO) guidelines on marine names.
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While the IHO – which worked with the United Nations Expert Group on Geographical Names – recognized the Southern Ocean in 1937, it reversed course in 1953.
Conversely, the US Geographical Names Council has used the name since 1999.
In February, the NOAA officially recognized the Southern Ocean.