Earth Got a New Ocean We Did Not Know About: The Southern Ocean

So far people on our planet know of four large water bodies which we know as the Oceans. The Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic oceans. But there is one more which is unheard of by most of us except the scientists who knew about it for a long time.

On World Oceans Day - June 8, the National Geographic Society recognized the Southern Ocean as the fifth ocean on the maps of the earth. The National Geographic Society is a global non-profit organization committed to exploring and protecting our planet.

This is not the first time that the Southern Ocean is taken into consideration. "The Southern Ocean has long been recognized by scientists, but because there was never agreement internationally, we never officially recognized it," Alex Tait, the society's geographer said.

The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) had recognized the Southern Ocean in 1937. But later on, they repealed that status in 1953.

Where is the Southern Ocean

The Southern Ocean marked by the red area on the map

Credit: Matthew W. Chwastyk and Greg Ugiansky, NG Staff

Sources: NASA/JPL; IHO

NG Society recognizes the Southern Ocean as a water body surrounding Antarctica out to 60° South latitude. The Scotia Sea and the Drake Passage at the tail end of South America are excluded from that region.

It shaped up when Antarctica and South America separated. This unfolded the Drake Passage approximately 34 million years ago. That makes it the youngest ocean geologically.

There are quite a few differences between the Southern Ocean and the other ones. The northern boundary, the largest of the Southern Ocean does not connect with any land. Its northern limit is with the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. This making it the only ocean which links with the other three oceans.

The four oceans we know of are all recognized by the continents that surround them. But the Southern Ocean defines itself by a current.

Identified by a current

ACC closing upon itself in a circumpolar loop

Source: Andrew Thompson, Caltech

Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) came into existence with the birth of the Southern Ocean when Antarctica and South America split up. This made the flow of water around the bottom of the earth unrestricted. It flows clockwise (when seen from the South Pole) from west to east around Antarctica.

The ACC transports more water than any other ocean current in the world. It pulls in water from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans to help drive a global ‘conveyor belt ' system that transfers heat around the globe.

Water in most of the Southern Ocean is much colder and a bit less salty than other oceans in the north of the planet. Cold, dense water that falls to the floor of Antarctica helps in storing carbon in the deep ocean.


Preserving the ocean 

“Anyone who has been there will struggle to explain what's so mesmerizing about it, but they'll all agree that the glaciers are bluer, the air colder, the mountains more intimidating, and the landscapes more captivating than anywhere else you can go,” says Seth Sykora-Bodie, a marine scientist and a National Geographic Explorer.

National Geographic has taken this step to spread awareness about preserving the oceans. They are under threat because of the drastic impact of human activities in the marine world.

The Southern Ocean is home to thousands of marine species that are found there only on the whole planet. Fishing of Krill and Patagonian toothfish near Antarctica for industrial purposes has been a concern for a long time.

To counter this, catch limits were imposed in the region in 1982. In 2016, as a part of this initiative, the Ross sea of West Antarctica was entrenched as a marine protected area (MPA). It is the largest MPA in the world.

Global acceptance

With this recognition by National Geographic, the Southern Ocean has gained a lot of popularity to be officially established as the fifth ocean. Still, the member nations of IHO have not voted to add one more ocean to the tally of four pre-existing.

Most of the school texts around the world will not have a mention of a fifth ocean till it is approved by all countries. This will keep the students away from learning about a huge part of the earth. Including the fifth ocean in the studies will spread awareness at the quickest. This can be the easiest way we can help preserve a valuable part of the planet.












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