For the first time in over a century, there is a new ocean on the map.
This is according to National Geographic, which announced on Tuesday that it officially recognizes the body of water surrounding Antarctica as the Southern Ocean, making it the fifth ocean alongside the Arctic, Atlantic, from India and the Pacific.
“The Southern Ocean has long been recognized by scientists, but since there has never been an agreement at the international level, we have never officially recognized it,” Alex Tait, geographer of the National, told the magazine. Geographic Society.
The new ocean extends in a ring of the Antarctic coastline at 60 degrees south latitude, according to National Geographic, and is differentiated from other oceans by its designation by current, not by continent. The area is slightly larger than twice the size of the United States, according to the Central Intelligence Agency website.
The company generally follows the names of the International Hydrographic Organization, and although the IHO recognized the Southern Ocean in its 1937 guidelines, it revoked the designation in 1953 and has not yet reinstated it.
Yet 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 change now? This is due to conservation efforts surrounding the Southern Ocean.
The Southern Ocean “encompasses 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 magazine.
Thousands of species live in the Southern Ocean and nowhere else, and the impacts of fishing on the region have been felt for decades, the magazine reported.
And scientists are currently worried about how climate change is altering the Southern Ocean. Last month, the world’s largest iceberg, more than three times the size of Los Angeles, broke off Antarctica. In February, another iceberg larger than New York broke off.
The current that led to its recognition, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, carries the most water of all currents and drives a global circulation system that carries heat around the planet, according to National Geographic.
The biggest impact of the change will be on education, Tait told the magazine.
“Students learn information about the ocean world through the oceans that you study,” he said. “If you don’t include the Southern Ocean, you don’t learn the details and its importance.”