Scientists Confirm: Earth Has a Fifth Ocean

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Add one more name to the list of the world’s oceans. In addition to the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic oceans, there is a new name for the body of water that encircles Antarctica: The Southern Ocean.

National Geographic Officially Recognizes World’s Fifth Ocean

The National Geographic Society has been mapping the world’s oceans for over 100 years. Since 1915, National Geographic has recognized four oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic.

Cellphones were buzzing this week when the society announced it will (finally) officially recognize the body of water that encircles Antarctica as the world’s fifth ocean, to be known as the Southern Ocean.

National Geographic tweeted: “National Geographic is making a change to recognize the Southern Ocean as a fifth official ocean in our atlases and maps!”

International Community Has Been Debating a Fifth Ocean for Over 30 Years

The idea of a fifth ocean is far from new. There has been much debate within the international scientific community, hampered by disagreement on the boundary of this body of water as well as what it should be named.

“The Southern Ocean has long been recognized by scientists, but because there was never agreement internationally, we never officially recognized it,” said Alex Tait, a National Geographic Society geographer, during an interview.

In 1999, officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recognized the body as the fifth ocean and the U.S. Board on Geographic Names approved the name “Southern Ocean.” But when the boundaries of the ocean were proposed in 2000 to the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), not all member countries were in agreement, the Washington Post reported. The IHO is one of National Geographic’s main references, according to the NOAA.

Now that a consensus has finally been reached, let’s take a look at a few facts about the world’s fifth ocean.

How Is the Southern Ocean designated?

The body of water now designated as the “Southern Ocean” encircles Antarctica, connecting the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. It extends from the Antarctic coast to 60 degrees south latitude, according to the NOAA.

National Geographic will use 60 degrees south latitude as the northern limit of the southern ocean, excluding the Drake Passage and the Scotia Sea.

The Southern Ocean ranks as the second-smallest of the five oceans. At its deepest point, the ocean has a depth of 24,390 feet. According to Wikipedia: “The Southern Ocean has been subject to rapid climate change, which has led to changes in the marine ecosystem.”