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Breakdown: Why you may have heard about a 5th ocean

Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 10:32 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - There’s a new ocean in the world — at least according to National Geographic.

The magazine and mapmaker announced Tuesday that it now officially recognizes five oceans, adding the Southern Ocean to the list that already included the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Arctic oceans. The announcement was made as part of World Oceans Day.

The Southern Ocean encompasses the waters surrounding Antarctica, with boundaries “roughly centered around a latitude of 60 degrees south,” according to the outlet.

Nat Geo cartographers say the swift current circling Antarctica keeps the waters there distinct and worthy of their own name.

That current, known as the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), flows from west to east, National Geographic explains. The ACC also pulls water from the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific to transport heat around the Earth, making it “crucial” component of the globe’s climate.

The waters of the ACC are also colder and less salty than the oceans above it, National Geographic writes, citing the University of Miami.

National Geographic decided to designate the Antarctic waters as its own ocean (instead of merely southern parts the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific) to bring awareness to, and promote conservation of the waters. But also because of its unique attributes, which scientists and geographers have long recognized.

“We’ve always labeled it, but we labeled it slightly differently [than other oceans],” said Alex Tait, a geographer for the National Geographic Society, in an article published Tuesday, June 8, aka World Oceans Day. “This change was taking the last step and saying we want to recognize it because of its ecological separation.”

The five oceans are connected and are actually one huge body of water, called the global ocean...
The five oceans are connected and are actually one huge body of water, called the global ocean or just the ocean.(Maps of World)

According to NOAA: The Southern Ocean is the ‘newest’ named ocean. It is recognized by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names as the body of water extending from the coast of Antarctica to the line of latitude at 60 degrees South. The boundaries of this ocean were proposed to the International Hydrographic Organization in 2000. However, not all countries agree on the proposed boundaries, so this has yet to be ratified by members of the IHO. The U.S. is a member of the IHO, represented by the NOS Office of Coast Survey.

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