Just when millions of fifth graders around the world had finally memorized the four oceans on Earth, National Geographic announces that there’s a new one on the globe.
A big hearty welcome to the Southern Ocean. That is the name of the swift current circling Antarctica that National Geographic has deemed to be an ocean. What gives Nat Geo the right to do this you might be asking? Well, they’ve been making official maps since 1915, and for the last 106 years they have only had four oceans on their maps: the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian and Arctic Oceans.
Going forward the Southern Ocean is part of the ocean fraternity.
Geographer Alex Tait of the National Geographic Society explains the reasoning behind the inclusion in a story that appeared on Nationalgeographic.com.
“The Southern Ocean has long been recognized by scientists, but because there was never agreement internationally, we never officially recognized it. It’s sort of geographic nerdiness in some ways. We’ve always labeled it, but we labeled it slightly differently [than other oceans],” Tait says. “This change was taking the last step and saying we want to recognize it because of its ecological separation.”
Here’s where this ocean differs from it’s four cousins. The others are defined by the land bodies or continents that fence them in, while the Southern Ocean is defined by a current, specifically, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current.
It was established about 34 millions ago, when Antarctica separated from South America. Inside this current the water temperature is colder and it is not as salty as the other ocean waters. The current pulls in water from the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.
There are thousands of species that live in the Southern Ocean and nowhere else.