Maps: Earth ‘officially’ has FIVE oceans as National Geographic finally recognizes the Southern Ocean

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National Geographic cartographers have finally recognized Antarctica’s Southern Ocean on their maps, bringing their number of oceans on Earth to five.

The society – which has been publishing maps of the world since 1915 – publicly announced their new policy yesterday, to coincide with World Ocean Day.

National Geographic has defined the ocean as being bound by the currents that flow around Antarctica – with a northernmost range up to the 60th parallel in the south.

The Southern Ocean joins the Arctic, Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans on their maps, although the status of the Antarctic-surrounding body is disputed internationally.

Nevertheless, National Geographic hopes their revised maps will help people think differently about the Southern Ocean, encouraging its conservation.

National Geographic cartographers have finally recognized Antarctica's Southern Ocean on their maps, bringing their number of oceans on Earth to five.  Pictured: The Southern Ocean (in red) surrounds Antarctica and borders the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans

National Geographic cartographers have finally recognized Antarctica’s Southern Ocean on their maps, bringing their number of oceans on Earth to five. Pictured: The Southern Ocean (in red) surrounds Antarctica and borders the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans

National Geographic has defined the ocean (pictured) as being bound by the currents that flow around Antarctica - with a northernmost range up to the 60th parallel in the south

National Geographic has defined the ocean (pictured) as being bound by the currents that flow around Antarctica – with a northernmost range up to the 60th parallel in the south

‘The Southern Ocean has long been recognized by scientists,’ explains geographer Alex Tait of the National Geographic Society the announcement.

‘But because there was never an international agreement, we never officially recognized it. It’s kind of geographic geekiness in a way,” he added.

‘We’ve always labeled it, but we’ve labeled it a little differently [than the other oceans]. This change was to take the last step and say we want to recognize it because of the ecological separation.”

REDRAW THE CARD

The National Geographic has hired a dedicated geographer since the 1970s to oversee all edits to their maps.

The National Geographic said Mr. Tait — who oversees changes to all the maps they publish — and their map policy committee have been discussing the merits of recognizing the Southern Ocean as a standalone body for years.

Previously, they had categorized the waters around Antarctica as merely cold, southern reaches of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, with scientists and members of the press increasingly using the term “Southern Ocean.”

The society’s decision to recognize it now stems from a recognition of the distinct Antarctic Circumpolar Current that surrounds the southernmost continent, as well as the unique marine ecosystem found in the cold waters of the Southern Ocean.

“Although there is only one interconnected ocean, kudos to National Geographic for officially recognizing the waters around Antarctica as the Southern Ocean,” said marine biologist and National Geographic Explorer at Large Sylvia Earle.

“Surrounded by the formidably fast Antarctic Circumpolar Current, it is the only ocean to touch three others and completely embrace a continent instead of being embraced by them.”

Previously, National Geographic had categorized the waters around Antarctica as merely cold, southern reaches of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, with scientists and members of the press increasingly using the term

Previously, National Geographic had categorized the waters around Antarctica as merely cold, southern reaches of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, with scientists and members of the press increasingly using the term “Southern Ocean.” Pictured: A 2009 National Geographic map of Antarctica with the Southern Ocean absent

The National Geographic Society - which has published maps of the world since 1915 - publicly announced their new policy yesterday, on the occasion of World Ocean Day.  Pictured: A new map of the Southern Hemisphere from National Geographic, showing the 'new' ocean

The National Geographic Society – which has published maps of the world since 1915 – publicly announced their new policy yesterday, on the occasion of World Ocean Day. Pictured: A new map of the Southern Hemisphere from National Geographic, showing the ‘new’ ocean

“The Southern Ocean has long been recognized by scientists,” explains geographer Alex Tait of the National Geographic Society. ‘But because there was never an international agreement, we never officially recognized it. It’s kind of geographic geekiness in a way,” he added. Pictured: Scientific Base Argentina, located in Paradise Bay, on the Antarctic Peninsula. Until this week it would have been on National Geographic’s maps of the Pacific coast kust

Tait said he hopes National Geographic’s new policy on the Southern Ocean will impact the way kids who use maps in school learn to see the world.

‘I think one of the biggest effects is through education. Students learn information about the ocean world through which oceans you study.’

“If you don’t count the Southern Ocean, you don’t learn its details and how important it is,” he concluded.

THE SOUTHERN OCEAN – A BODY DEFINED BY A CURRENT

Pictured: the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, with branches connected to the global 'conveyor belt' of circulation or

Pictured: the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, with branches connected to the global ‘conveyor belt’ of circulation or

Unlike the Arctic, Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans — which are defined by the continents that connect them — the Southern Ocean is instead characterized by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC).

Formed about 34 million years ago, when Antarctica and South America were separated by the action of continental drift, the ACC flows counterclockwise around Antarctica in a fluctuating band that lies around 60° latitude.

Within the current — which extends from the surface to the ocean floor — the waters are both colder and less saline than the waters of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans for both.

However, these three bodies do feed the ACC, which transports more water than any other current and helps power a global circulation known as “the conveyor belt” that serves to transport heat around the world.

This means that the currents have a significant impact on Earth’s climate — as does the Southern Ocean itself, where the cold, dense water that sinks off the coast of Antarctica helps to store carbon in the deep ocean.

Pictured: Emperor Penguins, which are endemic to the southernmost continent

Pictured: Emperor Penguins, which are endemic to the southernmost continent

And by surrounding these chilly southern waters, the ACC is helping to keep Antarctica cold — providing an ecologically distinctive environment for thousands of species unique to the Southern Ocean.

According to National Geographic Explorer in Residence Enric Sala, the Southern Ocean includes “unique and fragile marine ecosystems that are home to beautiful marine life such as whales, penguins and seals.”

National Geographic hopes their revised maps will help people think differently about the Southern Ocean, encouraging its conservation.

Recent studies have shown that human-induced climate change is warming the waters flowing through the Antarctic Circumpolar Current.

It’s unclear how far this will affect the southernmost continent — but experts have noted that one of Antarctica’s fastest-melting ice sheets and shelves has occurred where the ACC is closest to land.

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