In scientific disputes that have been going on for decades, an end has been put. The Southern Ocean will now be marked on maps and infographics from National Geographic.
National Geographic has been producing maps since 1915, and only four oceans are plotted on them: the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Arctic. Starting this year – starting June 8, World Oceans Day – National Geographic cartographers have recognized the fifth, the Southern Ocean.
“The Southern Ocean has long been recognized by scientists, but since there was no such agreement at the international level, we did not officially recognize it,” – Alex Tate, geographer of the National Geographic Society.
Over the years, experts have debated whether the waters around Antarctica have unique characteristics to merit their own name, or whether they are simply a cold extension of neighboring oceans. Tate describes these discussions as “a kind of geographic boring.”
For nautical names, National Geographic focuses on the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO). Back in 1937, the IHO recognized the Southern Ocean, but in 1953 canceled this decision under pressure from the scientific community, which could not come to a consensus.
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The US Geographic Names Board has been using the name since 1999, and NOAA officially recognized the Southern Ocean as a separate region in February 2021. In turn, the National Geographic Committee on Cartographic Policy has observed how the frequency of use of the term by scientists and the press is increasing.
The Southern Ocean includes most of the waters surrounding Antarctica up to 60 degrees south latitude, with the exception of the Drake Passage and the Scotia Sea. While other oceans are defined by the continents that enclose them, the Southern Ocean is defined by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. Originating about 34 million years ago, when Antarctica separated from South America, it provided an unobstructed flow of water in this part of our planet.
The recognition is in line with the Oceans Society’s initiative to focus on a region in particular need of conservation action. Scientists are currently studying how climate change is affecting the Southern Ocean and Antarctica.