For the first time in over a century there is a new ocean on the map.
That’s according to National Geographic, which announced Tuesday that it is officially recognizing the body of water surrounding Antarctica as the Southern Ocean, making it the fifth ocean alongside the Arctic, Atlantic, Indian and Pacific.
“The Southern Ocean has long been recognized by scientists, but since there was never an agreement internationally, we have never officially recognized it,” said Alex Tait, geographer for the National Geographic Society the magazine.
According to National Geographic, the new ocean extends in a ring from the coast of Antarctica to 60 degrees south latitude and differs from other oceans in its name according to the current, not the continent. The area is slightly larger than twice the size of the USA, it says on the website of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Society generally follows the name of the International Hydrographic Organization, and although the IHO recognized the Southern Ocean in its 1937 guidelines, it dropped the designation in 1953 and has yet to restore it.
However, the US Board on Geographic Names has been using the Southern Ocean name since 1999, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association recognized it in February.
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Why the change now? This is due to conservation efforts around the Southern Ocean.
The Southern Ocean “comprises unique and fragile marine ecosystems that are home to wonderful marine life such as whales, penguins and seals,” National Geographic Explorer in Residence Enric Sala told the magazine.
Thousands of species live in the Southern Ocean and nowhere else, and the effects of fishing on the region have been felt for decades, the magazine reported.
And scientists are currently voicing concern about how climate change is changing the Southern Ocean. Last month, the world’s largest iceberg, more than three times the size of Los Angeles, became broke off from Antarctica. Another iceberg in February bigger than New York City broke off.
The current that led to its recognition, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, carries most of the water of all currents, according to National Geographic, and powers a global circulatory system that carries heat around the planet.
The biggest impact of the change will be education, Tait told the magazine.
“Students learn information about the ocean world through the oceans they study,” he said. “If you don’t include the Southern Ocean, you won’t find out how important it is.”