The National Geographic Society announced Monday it will recognize five oceans, including the new “Southern Ocean,” which surrounds Antarctica.
- “Scientists have long known there’s a distinct ecological region around Antarctica,” National Geographic Society geographer Alex Tait told The Washington Post.
The greater scientific community has debated what to do with the fifth ocean, in addition to the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Arctic oceans.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said there was a fifth ocean in 1999. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names approved the “Southern Ocean” name soon after.
- But the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) did not agree that the ocean existed. The National Geographic Society often consults with the IHO, The Washington Post reports.
In the past the National Geographic Society recognized the fifth ocean on maps but decided to explain there wasn’t a big agreement on the matter to make it an official ocean until now, according to The Washington Post.
- “We thought it was important at this point to officially recognize it,” Tait told The Washington Post. “People look to us for geographic fact: How many continents, how many countries, how many oceans? Up until now, we’ve said four oceans.”
Per NBC News, the area around Antarctica is unique.
- “The waters encircling the southern continent have distinct ecological characteristics, including its unique current patterns better known as the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, or ACC,” NBC News reports.
Tait told National Geographic he hopes children will learn more in school about the ocean.
- “Students learn information about the ocean world through what oceans you’re studying,” Tait told National Geographic. “If you don’t include the Southern Ocean then you don’t learn the specifics of it and how important it is.”