Story at a glance

  • On World Ocean Day, The National Geographic Society named the Southern Ocean as the fifth official ocean basin.
  • Although there is technically one single ocean covering the globe, named oceans have unique ecosystems and habitats.
  • The Southern Ocean is specifically colder and less salty than its counterparts.

The National Geographic Society formally declared a fifth ocean, adding the Southern Ocean to the existing roster of the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Arctic oceans.

After existing informally for years, the Southern Ocean, located around the Antarctic continent, was declared the fifth ocean basin on Tuesday by the nonprofit science and exploration organization.

“The Southern Ocean has long been recognized by scientists, but because there was never agreement internationally, we never officially recognized it,” says National Geographic Society Geographer Alex Tait.

The timing coincides with World Ocean Day on June 8, an international day recognizing the importance of oceans as part of the Earth’s ecosystem.

The Southern Ocean is uniquely colder than its four counterparts, and less salty. This helped give a specific ecological distinction that convinced scientists it was not just a colder swell from any of the four preexisting named oceans.


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Some of the fauna seen in the Southern Ocean include penguins, whales and seals. 

The Southern Ocean forms a circle around Antarctica, out to 60 degrees south latitude. It is composed of a current, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), which is estimated to have formed roughly 34 million years ago. 

The ACC flows west to east around Antarctica. It pulls water from the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans, making it crucial in the global circulation system responsible for transporting heat.

“Rimmed by the formidably swift Antarctic Circumpolar Current, it is the only ocean to touch three others and to completely embrace a continent rather than being embraced by them,” said National Geographic Explorer Sylvia Earle. “While there is but one interconnected ocean, bravo to National Geographic for officially recognizing the body of water surrounding Antarctica as the Southern Ocean.”

Published on Jun 09, 2021