National Geographic Adds World’s Fifth Ocean

Ocean-lovers worldwide received an unexpected surprise June 8 when National Geographic added a fifth ocean to their maps. 

Dubbed “the Southern Ocean,” the newly declared body of water rings the entirety of continental Antarctica and comprises a massive amount of water and habitat in the Southern Hemisphere. 

“Since National Geographic began making maps in 1915, it has recognized four oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic Oceans,” Nat Geo staffer Sarah Gibbens writes of the change. “Starting on June 8, World Oceans Day, it will recognize the Southern Ocean as the world’s fifth ocean.”  

As for its geographic domain, the Southern Ocean wraps around Antarctica and extends out to a latitude of 60-degrees south. 

Although the addition is a big deal, many researchers were relatively unsurprised with the change, as the region has long held a special place in the hearts of mariners, scientists and geographers alike. 

Alex Tait, Geographer at the National Geographic Society, says that the move, while a big shift, is more a formality than anything else. “[It’s] long been recognized by scientists,” he says, “but because there was never an agreement internationally, we never officially recognized it.” 

Up until the move by National Geographic, efforts to unite the international community in identifying the body of water have been largely unsuccessful. But some agencies and governing bodies have been regarding the region as an ocean for many, many years. 

In a follow up article, the Guardian points out that “The US Board of Geographic Names, a federal body created in 1890 to establish and maintain ‘uniform geographic name usage’ through the federal government, already recognizes the Southern ocean as occupying the same territory.”

Regarding the name change’s legacy, in a recent interview Tait told the Washington Post that the declaration is very important from both a mapping point of view, and an educational standpoint. 

“So when students learn about parts of the ocean world,” he told the Post, “they learn it’s an interconnected ocean, and they learn there’s these regions called oceans that are really important, and there’s a distinct one in the icy waters around Antarctica.”

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