The National Geographic knows a thing or two about maps: They’ve been making them since 1915.
Over those 106 years the famed publication has listed four oceans on Earth — the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Arctic. Those maps are now being redrawn.
A fifth ocean has been designated by the magazine: the icy waters surrounding Antarctica below the Earth’s southern 60th parallel is officially being named the Southern Ocean.
The move is significant beyond adding one more name for grade school students to remember. The Southern Ocean is fenced from the northern oceans by a fast current that circles the Earth from west to east around Antarctica in a band centered around a latitude of 60 degrees south.
The waters south of that Antarctic Circumpolar Current are colder and ecologically distinct, the magazine says, making a home for thousands of species that can live nowhere else on Earth.
“The Southern Ocean encompasses unique and fragile marine ecosystems that are home to wonderful marine life such as whales, penguins, and seals,” said National Geographic Explorer in Residence Enric Sala said in the announcement.
“Anyone who has been there will struggle to explain what’s so mesmerizing about it,” Seth Sykora-Bodie, a marine scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration added, “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.”
The recognition of the world’s fifth ocean, made official on June 8, World Oceans Day, aims to promote conservation in a region where industrial fishing has blighted populations of krill and Patagonian toothfish over the years.
The waters around Antarctica (the Earth’s seventh continent) have also been known as the Antarctic Ocean or the Austral Ocean, though the use of Southern Ocean is the most popular in the media and scientific community, and is used by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names and the International Hydrographic Organization and NOAA.