National Geographic announced Tuesday that it officially recognizes the body of water surrounding Antarctica as Earth’s fifth ocean: the Southern Ocean.
The change marks the first time in over a century that the organization has drawn the world’s oceanic map, which has historically included only four: the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the Arctic Ocean.
“The Southern Ocean has long been recognized by scientists, but because there was never international agreement, we never officially recognized it,” National Geographic Society geographer Alex Tait told the magazine.
“It’s kind of geographical nerdism in some ways,” Tait said. “We have always felt it, but we felt it a little differently [than other oceans]. This change took the final step and said we will recognize it because of its ecological separation. ”
The Southern Ocean stretches from the Antarctic coastline to 60 degrees south latitude, excluding the Drake Passage and the Scotia Sea, according to National Geographic. The latest body of water makes it the second smallest after the Arctic.
The waters that surround the southern continent have various ecological properties, including its unique flow patterns, better known as the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, or ACC, according to the magazine.
The ACC makes the waters around Antarctica colder and slightly less salty than those in the north, helping to transport heat around the world and store carbon in the deep ocean – all of which have a crucial impact on the planet, National Geographic reported.
The change broke from guidelines outlined by the International Hydrographic Organization, which standardizes sea mapping and official names.
The organization has not yet accepted a proposal submitted in 2000 to add the Southern Ocean to the world map, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. However, most countries, including the United States, recognize the body of water as separate.
Tait told National Geographic that he hopes the organization’s new policy will have a huge impact on education.
“Students learn information about the ocean world through which oceans you study,” he said. “If you do not include the South Seas, you do not learn the specifics of it and how important it is.”