The A-68a iceberg is seen from the bridge of the research ship RRS James Cook in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica, February 13, 2021. Picture taken February 13, 2021. Povl Abrahamsen/British Antarctic Survey/Handout via REUTERS

National Geographic Recognizes Earth’s 5th Ocean

Mike Schuler
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June 10, 2021

It took over 100 years, but starting now National Geographic will recognize the body of water around Antarctica and below the 60th parallel as the Southern Ocean after cartographers determined the area to be worthy its own name.

National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest non-profit scientific organizations and has been producing maps since 1915 depicting just four oceans; the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Arctic. But starting on World Oceans Day, which was June 8, the society will officially recognize the Southern Ocean in both print and online.

The idea that the Southern Ocean is its own independent body of water has been floating around for quite a while, but taking a more “nerdy” approach, Nat Geo’s map policy committee has now determined that the swift current circling Antarctica is enough to keep its waters distinct from the southern Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, making the body of water worthy of the “ocean” designation.

“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.

Part of the decision may have also been just keeping up with the Joneses, since Southern Ocean is commonly used in media and in the scientific and educational communities. Since 2000, the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) has recognized the Southern Ocean as the waters north of Antarctica to 60 degrees south latitude, which National Geographic’s designation will mirror. While many countries including the United States do recognize that the Southern Ocean is the fifth named ocean, technically the boundaries have not yet been ratified by members of the IHO, so how many oceans the world has really depends on who you ask.

According to the CIA World Factbook, however, the Southern Ocean (meaning the waters below 60 degrees south latitude) comprise an area of nearly 8.5 million square miles, making it the world’s fourth largest ocean ahead of the Arctic Ocean.

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