World Environment Day brought a new surprise for ocean lovers this year – National Geographic added a fifth ocean to their maps.
Named the Southern Ocean, the massive water body circles the entire continental Antarctica and makes up for a huge amount of water and habitat in the Southern Hemisphere.
In 1915, when National Geographic started making maps, the four oceans recognized by it were Atlantic, pacific, Indian and Arctic Ocean. Now, it has recognized the Southern Ocean as the world’s fifth ocean.
Coming to the geographic domain, the Southern Ocean circles around Antarctica and extends out to a latitude of 60 degrees south. Although the recognition of this water body is big news, many researchers have been unsurprised with the addition as the region has long been recognized by mariners, scientists and geographers.
Seth Sykora-Bodie, a marine scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a national Geographer Explorer recently said that the glaciers in the area are bluer, the air is colder, mountains seem more intimidating and the landscape is more mesmerizing that most places one can visit.
National Geographic Society Geographer Alex Trait has said that despite holding a special place in the hearts of scientists, there was never an agreement to officially recognize the water body as an ocean due to the debate if it had enough unique characteristics to deserve its own name or whether it was just a southern extension of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
The change had been in consideration for years, especially as scientists and the press had started using the term- the Southern Ocean on a large scale.
The Southern Ocean is defined by a current, as opposed to the other oceans that are defined by the continents that they surround.
According to scientists, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) was established approximately 34 million years ago due to the separation of Antarctica from South America. This separation gave way to uninterrupted flow of water around the button of the Earth.
The ACC flows from west to east around America in a broad fluctuating band roughly centred around the northern boundary of the Southern Ocean – the latitude of 60 degrees south. The waters that the ACC holds are colder and less salty than the ocean waters towards the north.
As reported by the National Geographic, the Southern Ocean has a unique and fragile marine ecosystem that inhabits magnificent marine life like whales, penguins and seals. It also has ecological effects all over America as the Humpback whales feed on krill off Antarctica and migrate far North to winter in different ecosystems off South and Central America. Seabirds also migrate in and out.
The Southern Ocean has been subject to industrial fishing of species like krill and Patagonian tooth fish for decades. A number of associations are working to set up more Marine protected areas (MPAs) in order to conserve the Southern Ocean’s critical feeding grounds like the Antarctic Peninsula.