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National Geographic confirms that the Earth has a fifth ocean4 min read

June 15, 2021 3 min read


National Geographic confirms that the Earth has a fifth ocean4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

This World Oceans Day, when we were interviewing the young inventor, Haaziq Kazi, National Geographic had a gift of its own for the world! On June 2, the society declared that the the water around Antarctica will now be known as the Southern Ocean — making it the planet’s fifth ocean.

Image: NY Post

Before we learn more about the new ocean, let’s see how well we know the ones that are already keeping the planet hydrated.

The society has been charting maps ever since 1915, and this move will effectively change how we see out planet, cartographically. The earlier recognised oceans—Arctic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Atlantic Ocean— now have a new friend—the Southern Ocean!

What exactly constitutes an ocean?
There is no clear definition but the largest bodies of water are called oceans.

The Southern Ocean had been recognised by scientists even earlier but it was never made official as there was never an international agreement. The term “Southern Ocean” was used by the Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa in as early as the 16th century to describe the waters at the bottom of the world. Scientists continued to use the term but it never gained official status as authorities believed that there was no real reason to call this body of water an ocean.

But all that changed on June 2, 2021! This move by National Geographic Society has established the water’s ecological separation.

What’s in a name?

Did you know that the word “ocean” has a history of its own?!
The first ocean on Earth was in fact a river! It was named after the river God, Oceanus, by the ancient Greeks. They believed that this river encircled the whole of the Earth. The name was later retained to mark the different parts of this universal river.

Why is it different?

Historically, the now fifth ocean was not considered separate. Its water was thought to be an extension of the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans. The other four oceans are defined by the continents surrounding them but the fifth ocean is a little different. And this difference is marked by the currents that flow in it, called the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC).

An ocean current describes the movement of water from one point to another. It is influenced by wind, tides, and temperature of water at different points.

The ACC flows from east to west. The ACC flows across the waters surrounding Antartica until 60 degrees south. The ACC pulls water from the surrounding oceans— Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic—and distributes heat across the planet. Its own cold water, being denser, sinks to the bottom of the ocean and helps store carbon.

Thousands of marine species are known to survive in these waters. Scientists also believe that the ACC was created 34 million years ago when the continent of Antarctica separated from South America.

The waters of the Southern Ocean are a lot colder, and less saltier than the ocean waters towards the north.

The difference is slight but evident to the one who visits the area.

Anyone who has been there will struggle to explain what’s so mesmerizing about it, but they’ll agree that the glaciers are bluer, the air colder, the mountains more intimidating, and the landscape more captivating than anywhere else you can go.

Seth Sykora-Bodie, Nat Geo Explorer, NY Post

The debate around the identity of the water body has been going around for a hundred years, and it has finally been resolved.

With excerpts from NY Post and Live Science