For the first time since map making began over a century ago, the National Geographic Society has said it will recognize the Southern Ocean as the world’s fifth ocean.
The association has already recognized four oceans: the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Indian and the Arctic.
The Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica, has long been recognized by scientists, but the company’s geographer, Alex Tait, said in an article announcing the decision that because there had never been a consensus internationally, the National Geographic Society had never officially recognized it.
“I am delighted that we are taking the step to officially recognize the Southern Ocean as the fifth ocean in the world,” Tait said in an email to Fox News Thursday. “There is, of course, an interconnected global ocean, but it has regions. Traditionally, there have been four regions, but the waters around Antarctica form a single fifth zone. “
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According to the article, cartographers wondered if the waters were just extensions of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
Did the icy body of need have enough defining characteristics to make it an official ocean?
National Geographic says the Southern Ocean is defined by a current about 34 million years old called the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC).
The waters inside the ACC, which flows from west to east, are said to be colder and less salty than the ocean waters to the north.
ACC also carries more water than any other ocean current, tapping into the waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans and activating a global circulation system known as a “conveyor belt”.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the constantly moving ocean circulation system carries heat around the world.
In addition, National Geographic noted that the cold, dense water that falls to the bottom of the Antarctic ocean helps store carbon – a climatic factor – and that the water passing through the ACC warms up.
“We have chosen to update our mapping policy to identify the Southern Ocean primarily because of its distinct ecological features. This includes the circumpolar currents and winds that isolate Antarctica, temperature and salinity gradients, and the region’s resulting influence on Earth’s climate, ”Tait said. , noting that drawing attention to the oceans is an “important part of geography education”.
Another factor in the announcement is the “ecologically distinct” environment of the ocean, with unique marine ecosystems currently threatened by industrial fishing.
“By drawing attention to the Southern Ocean, the National Geographic Society hopes to promote its conservation,” the publication says.
“We hope that by recognizing the Southern Ocean as the fifth ocean on the planet, we will draw attention to the unique protections this region urgently needs. 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 species of fish ”, Tait. “As the climate changes, we need to provide protected areas in all regions of the ocean, including the Southern Ocean. “
Oceans, made up of salt water, cover more than 70% of the Earth and about 97% of the planet’s water is found in the ocean.
To date, over 80% of the world’s ocean has never been mapped or explored.
While the National Geographic Society has been updating its maps for decades, significant revisions are rare and, in general, maps follow the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) guidelines for marine names.
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While the IHO – which works with the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names – recognized the Southern Ocean in 1937, it backtracked in 1953.
Conversely, the US Board on Geographic Names has used the name since 1999.
In February, NOAA also officially recognized the Southern Ocean.