Millions of children all over the globe have learned geography basics: There are seven continents, four oceans.
National Geographic, one the most prominent and well-known mapmaking organizations in the world, has officially declared the existence of a fifth ocean. It’s known as the Southern Ocean and is the water body that surrounds Antarctica.
The confluence of the Southernmost stretches of the Pacific and Indian Oceans has been an intriguing — and sometimes contentious — spot to oceanographers for a long time.
The announcement of the new ocean coincides closely with the launch of Planet Possible by National Geographic, a new initiative that aims to inspire, inform and empower people to live more lightly in the world.
What’s in the name?
Most often, world map changes are caused by political changes. For example, Czechoslovakia is divided into Slovakia and the Czech Republic, or Swaziland changing its name to Eswatini.
The Fifth Ocean, however, is not a reflection of a change in the world. It is an uncommon example of a mapmaker trying to alter the planet.
Alex Tait, National Geographic’s Geographer, explains why it is so important to use naming conventions.
CNN Travel is told that part of mapping the globe involves using commonplace names and features.
“The oceans are one such thing, so we won’t keep track of how scientists and travelers, writers, and people use place names.”
Tait quickly adds that while National Geographic’s position in the mapping industry gives it more weight, other people have been using the term the Southern Ocean for years.
Angela Fritz, CNN’s climate editor, says that “Oceanographers (the Southern Ocean), will likely rejoice that (Nat Geo maps will be on”),” Angela Fritz said. She added: “I cannot think of any earth scientists that disagree with the designation.”
How to create an ocean
Tait says that understanding the oceans requires a solid foundation.
He notes that there is only one ocean in the world and all of it is interconnected.
“We are really talking about ocean areas. There have been four traditionally: Atlantic, Pacific and Indian, as well as Arctic. For many, many decades, scientists and others have used the term Southern Ocean for the geographical region of the ocean surrounding Antarctica.
What makes the Southern Ocean unique?
Tait breaks it down.
You can go from warm waters in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans to very cool waters around Antarctica. Then the salinity drops. Based on these environmental factors, there is a distinct fauna in the Southern Ocean. Minke whales and certain types of seals, penguins, fish, and bird life are all abundant.
National Geographic named a fifth ocean on World Oceans Day (June 8, 2008). This was partly because it is possible to give a place a name and status.
Ocean conservation is a massive project. It’s much easier to raise awareness about the Southern Ocean as opposed to “that one area” of water.
While many countries and organisations around the globe recognize the Southern Ocean as part of their territory, not all are on the same page about where it is.
Officially, National Geographic uses the 60° south latitude to draw its water boundary. Australia, however, considers all southerly parts of its country to be the Southern Ocean.
Climate change also plays an important role in determining where the borders might be.
Jean-Louis Etienne, explorer and environmentalist from France, recently revealed that he has created a floating laboratory specifically for studying the Southern Ocean.
The Polar Pod, his creation, isn’t powered and can float in water at a slow rate to collect data and “orbit” Antarctica.
Etienne aims to finish and deploy the Polar Pod before 2024. The Southern Ocean’s waters don’t seem empty at the moment.
Princeton University’s Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling project (SOCCOM), has launched around 200 robotic floats in the ocean. All of them are equipped with sensors to measure salinity, oxygen levels and other environmental data.
Regular travelers will find it difficult to add the Southern Ocean on their bucket lists. It is not easy to travel to Antarctica, but it is possible