National Geographic has acknowledged the existence of a fifth ocean and will begin mapping it to its maps

    13 Jun 2021

    For the first time since 1915, National Geographic will start marking the fifth ocean, the Southern Ocean, on its maps and infographics. These are waters around Antarctica up to 60 degrees south latitude, with the exception of the Drake Passage and the Scotia Sea.

    Anyone who thought the world had four oceans will now have to think again, after the National Geographic Society announced it would recognize a new Southern Ocean in Antarctica, bringing the global total to five.

    The National Geographic, a non-profit scientific and educational organization whose mapping standards are referenced by many atlases and cartographers said the Southern Ocean consists of the waters surrounding Antarctica, out to 60-degrees south latitude.

    National Geographic Society geographer Alex Tait said scientists have long known that the waters surrounding Antarctica form a “distinct ecological region defined, by ocean currents and temperatures”.

    Tait told the Washington Post that the span of water is yet to be officially recognized as an ocean by the relevant international body: “But we thought it was important at this point to officially recognize it.”

    Scientists have long debated whether the waters around Antarctica are unique enough to have a name of their own, and not just be considered a cold southern extension of the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans.

        “In a way, it’s just geographic boring. The Southern Ocean has long been recognized by scientists, but since there was no such agreement at the international level, we did not officially recognize it,” Alex Tate explained to the National Geographic Society.

    The International Hydrographic Organization recognized the Southern Ocean in 1937, but already in 1953 canceled this decision under pressure from the scientific community.

    In recent decades, the term “Southern Ocean” has been increasingly mentioned in the press and research. This fact influenced the decision of the National Geographic Committee on Cartographic Policy.

    Recognition of the fifth ocean is consistent with the policy of the Society for the Conservation of the World Ocean. A separate title will help focus attention on a region in need of special conservation measures.

    The US Board of Geographic Names, a federal body created in 1890 to establish and maintain “uniform geographic name usage” through the federal government, already recognizes the Southern ocean as occupying the same territory, but this is the first time the National Geographic has done so.

    Attempts to ratify the boundaries and name of the Southern Ocean internationally have been thwarted.

    The U.S. Board on Geographic Names, however, has used the name since 1999. And in February of this year, NOAA officially recognized the Southern Ocean as distinct. 

    Tait says National Geographic’s new policy will have an impact on how children using maps in school learn to see the world. 

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