Earth Now Officially Has Five Oceans!


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The frigid waters around Antarctica are home to a large number of marine animals (Credit: Michelle Raponi/CC0/ Pixabay)

The icy waters surrounding Antarctica have long been called the Southern Ocean by scientists, the media, and even the US Board on Geographical Names. However, it never received the official recognition it deserved - until now. On June 8, 2021, the National Geographic Society, which has been making maps since 1915, announced that from now on, there would be five oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic, and Southern Ocean. Fittingly, the decision was revealed on World Oceans Day!

National Geographic's map policy committee maintains they had been considering making the change for many years. However, it is only recently that the geographers decided that the Southern Ocean was not just an extension of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. It had the unique characteristics required to deserve its own name.

"Our maps are updated. The Southern Ocean is treated the same as the traditional four, and the next quiz question about the number of oceans has an updated official answer from National Geographic—five!" the Society officials declared on Twitter.

The boundaries of the Southern Ocean are defined by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (Credit: Matthew W. Chwastyk and Soren Walljasper,
NGM Staff. Eric Knight/Sources: NASA/JPL; Green Marble)

Alex Tait, a National Geographic Society geographer, says that the change reflects the Society's desire to draw public attention to protecting the Southern Ocean's unique and fragile marine ecosystem. “We’ve always labeled it, but we labeled it slightly differently [than other oceans],” Tait explains. “This change was taking the last step and saying we want to recognize it because of its ecological separation.”

The new ocean will include most of the waters around Antarctica out to 60 degrees south latitude, excluding the Drake Passage and the Scotia Sea. Unlike the other oceans, whose boundaries are defined by the surrounding continents, the extent of the Southern Ocean is determined by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) — the Earth's longest and strongest oceanic current.

The ACC was established 34 million years ago when Antarctica broke off from South America, enabling the water to freely flow around Earth's southernmost tip. Its water is colder and less salty than the ocean waters to the north and provides a unique habitat for thousands of species, including whales, penguins, and seals. Extending from the surface to the ocean floor, the ACC also significantly impacts Earth's climate. The powerful current, which draws in water from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, acts like a conveyor belt distributing heat around the planet.

Tait believes the official recognition of the Southern Ocean will influence how children see the world. “I think one of the biggest impacts is through education,” he says. “Students learn information about the ocean world through what oceans you’re studying. If you don’t include the Southern Ocean, then you don’t learn the specifics of it and how important it is.”



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  • artlover_23
    artlover_2311 months
    I thought there always were 5 oceans but at least people acknowledge it i guess
    • artlover200
      artlover20011 months
      Omg....wait I like never knew how bad we humans are but now😶 I just am unimpressed
      • chiefer
        chiefer11 months
        I thought there were 7?
        • zooloo15
          zooloo1511 months
          lol there's 7 continents but even that might change soon (it's perfectly ok because there's 7 seas and 5 oceans 👍) (most people have thought this at least once in their life so its fine lol, my teacher specializes in this kind of stuff and even she gets confused sometimes)
        • chiefer
          chiefer11 months
          Weird, cool, sad
          • chiefer
            chiefer11 months
            Weird, sad, cool!
            • darklight_rp
              darklight_rp12 months
              • lilypads
                lilypads12 months
                So I think I lost brain cells bc I thought there were 7 sea's lol I'm just dumb 😓
              • aestheticbeige
                Wow! Another ocean?! That is so cool! 😮🌎
                • the_couch
                  the_couch12 months
                  I agree with you. It’s kind of like we never notice our oceans and marine life, and to be honest we don’t really deserve another ocean because of how badly we treat all the other ones. Still it’s really cool that we have a fifth ocean. #savetheearth
                  • esdf
                    esdf11 months
                    What do you mean deserve, it was always there and it isn't your choice if we deserve an ocean or not.
                  • trickyhacker33
                    Ok so understand this:we have destroyed our oceans and our only hope are what we did. #savetheearth