Say Hello: Earth Welcomes Its Fifth Ocean

Hopes for better ocean conservation push geographers to name the fifth ocean.
Fabienne Lang

On World Ocean Day, June 8, the planet officially welcomed a fifth ocean: the Southern Ocean. There are now five oceans swirling around our blue planet. 

National Geographic has been mapping our world since 1915, and since that time it has recognized the four large bodies of water that we call oceans as the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, and Arctic Oceans. Now, the magazine has declared the Southern Ocean as our fifth ocean. 

"The Southern Ocean has long been recognized by scientists, but because there was never agreement internationally, we never officially recognized it," said National Geographic Society Geographer Alex Tait. 

Wrapped around Antarctica, the cold, and less salty, waters of the now-Southern Ocean have been a heated debate between geographers, and the National Geographic Society’s map policy committee for years. 

The final push, Tait explained, was conservation. By officially naming the ocean, public awareness onto the region is heightened — something that can't come soon enough for an area in such dire need of conservation efforts. The hope is that conservation of our world's oceans increases, and that includes the Southern Ocean now. 

"This change was taking the last step and saying we want to recognize it because of its ecological separation," explained Tait. 

How naming an ocean helps conservation

Indeed, the ocean is the only one out the five on Earth to touch three other oceans, completely encircle a continent, and embrace an integral flow of water called the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC).

Inside the ACC, National Geographic explains, the waters are colder and less salty than oceans in the north. It also spans from the bottom of the ocean to the surface, transporting more water than any other current on Earth. It pushes cold, denser water to the ocean floor, which helps rebalance the ocean's carbon, just like this carbon-caputring tech does. In other words, it is crucial for our planet's wellbeing. 

The Southern Ocean "encompasses unique and fragile marine ecosystems that are home to wonderful marine life such as whales, penguins, and seals," said National Geographic Explorer in Residence Enric Sala

It's clear to see just how important officially naming an ocean is, and in doing so, the hope is that future generations learn about it, and how imporant it is to our ecosystem, hopefully pushing more conservation efforts. 

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