The National Geographic Society cartographers have decided to recognize the waters around Antarctica as the Southern Ocean "because of its ecological separation,” starting on June 8, World Oceans Day.
Since NatGeo scientists began making maps in 1915, they have recognized the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Indian, and the Arctic Oceans. While the other oceans are defined by the continents that fence them in, the Southern Ocean is defined by a current.
"Anyone who has been there will struggle to explain what's so mesmerizing about it, but they'll all agree that the glaciers are bluer, the air colder, the mountains more intimidating, and the landscapes more captivating than anywhere else you can go,” a marine scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Seth Sykora-Bodie explained.
The Southern Ocean has been recognized by scientists long ago, but not officially since there was no international agreement on the matter among geographers, who debated whether the waters around Antarctica had enough unique characteristics to deserve their own name or they were just extensions of the other oceans.
“Rimmed by the formidably swift Antarctic Circumpolar Current, it is the only ocean to touch three others and to completely embrace a continent rather than being embraced by them,” a marine biologist Sylvia Earle said.
Antarctica separated from South America roughly 34 million years ago, at the same time the Antarctic Circumpolar Current was established. That allowed the water flow to get unimpeded access around the bottom of the Earth.
The northern boundary of the Southern Ocean is now recognized around a latitude of 60 degrees south.
NatGeo scientists also noted that the ACC transports more water than any other planet's ocean, pulling its waters from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, helping drive a global circulation system. Besides that, thousands of species live nowhere else but in the ACC such as whales, penguins, and seals.
The National Geographic Society's geographer had been overseeing changes to every published map since the 1970s. The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), which works with the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names to standardize names on an international scale, recognized the Southern Ocean in its 1937 guidelines but repealed the designation in 1953, citing controversy among the scientists.