National Geographic announced on Tuesday that it officially recognizes the body of water surrounding Antarctica as Earth’s fifth ocean: the Southern Ocean.
The change marks the first time in more than a century that the organization has redrawn the ocean maps of the world, which historically numbered only four: the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Arctic Oceans.
“The Southern Ocean has been recognized for a long time by scientists, but since there has never been an agreement at the international level, we have never officially recognized it,” Alex Tait, geographer of the National, told the magazine. Geographic Society.
“It’s kind of a geographic nerdiness in some ways,” Tait said. “We’ve always labeled it, but we’ve labeled it slightly differently. [than other oceans]. This change took the last step and said we want to recognize it because of its ecological separation. “
The Southern Ocean extends from the Antarctic coastline to 60 degrees south latitude, excluding the Drake Passage and the Scotia Sea, according to National Geographic. The most recent body of water makes it the second smallest, after the Arctic.
The waters surrounding the southern continent have distinct ecological features, including its unique current patterns better known as the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, or ACC, according to the magazine.
ACC makes the waters around Antarctica cooler and slightly less salty than those in the north, which helps transport heat around the world and store carbon deep in the ocean, which has a crucial impact on the planet, National Geographic reported.
The change broke with the guidelines outlined by the International Hydrographic Organization, which standardizes nautical cartography and official names.
The organization has yet to accept 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 distinct.
Tait told National Geographic that he hopes the organization’s new policy will have a huge impact on education.
“Students learn information about the ocean world through the oceans that you study,” he said. “If you don’t include the Southern Ocean, you don’t learn the details and its importance. “