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The Southern Ocean: The Newest Kid on the Ocean Block

Team StoryWeavers|July 03, 2021, 02:12 IST|

You all must have learnt about continents and oceans as part of your geography lessons. So how many continents and oceans are there? 

Seven continents and four oceans, right?

Well, according to National Geographic, there are five oceans now. The maps, atlases and globes that they make will also reflect that henceforth. 

So, which is the new ocean that has been added? 

It’s the Southern Ocean that flows around the frozen continent of Antarctica.

This ocean extends in a ring from Antarctica’s coastline to 60 degrees south latitude.  According to National Geographic, It is distinct from other oceans because it’s ocean currents are different. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), which is supposed to have been created about 34 million years ago when Antarctica separated from South America, flows eastward and looks like it perpetually chases itself around Antarctica!

What’s new about the ocean?

So what’s the reason behind the buzz? Here is a background.

For some of you, the Southern Ocean may be a familiar name. For those who are wondering: Is it a new ocean that has just been identified? The answer is no! The Southern Ocean has always been there! It has been identified in maps and atlases   since the 15th century. But it gained recognition as a separate entity very recently. 

Prior to the inclusion into the ‘Ocean’s 5 club’, the water body had just been considered an extension of the waters of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. 

The southern ocean on a map

For several years, the perception of the Southern Ocean as a separate entity was debated. Different groups of experts began studying the water body and its properties. Some of them went ahead to recognise the ocean as an independent water body. 

However, it wasn’t put on the map until earlier this June!

The National Geographic Society- which makes maps, globes and atlases-   decided to make it official and include the Southern Ocean that circles Antarctica in their future projects that they calibrate.

Geographical details aside, the water body is also interesting to explore and has always been considered unique in more aspects than one. 

For instance, it is the coldest and windiest ocean on Earth. Temperatures go up to – 2 degrees. The other oceans can go upto 1.2 degree celsius.

Explorers have long wondered about other visually and other distinct features as well. For instance, the glaciers in this water body are bluer than the other oceans. The air is colder and the mountains surrounding the ocean are certainly more intimidating. Infact, one of the explorers adds:  “Anyone who has been there struggles to explain what’s so mesmerizing about it,”.

The Southern Ocean is the only one that touches three others and encircles a continent. On the contrary, the other oceans are shared by continents. 

It is said that the newest ocean also influences the global ocean circulation. Because of the connection with other oceans, it is considered to be the gateway where the bottom, intermediate, and deep waters interconnect with the other sea’s surface.

Why was it recognised now?

In the past, geographers and cartographers (those who make maps) have disagreed on the Southern Ocean’s northern boundary and often debated if it was just a colder extension of the waters of the  Pacific, Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. 

Some of them still agree with this school of thought. In fact, one of the official bodies, The International Hydrographic Organisation has still not accepted the Southern Ocean as an independent water body. 

The Southern Ocean in all its splendour

And while it is made official by Nat Geo, the Southern Ocean is yet to gain universal acceptance

However, The National Geographic Society feels that it is important for the Southern Ocean to be recognised to promote conservation efforts.

Some geographers also believe that inclusion will also help students dive deep and understand more about the water body and the habitat around it. 

Wouldn’t you want to visit the frozen ocean and maybe catch up with the penguins, seals!

Do you think the Southern Ocean will be a common sight on all maps in the future? Does it deserve to be recognised as a separate ocean? What do you think? Tell us in the comments below. 


About the Author

Aparna is a mom, singer and dreamer. At BYJU'S, she writes stories about learning for children. She believes in the power of music, especially ghazal, the magic of the universe and happy learners. When not writing or singing, you will find her intensely engaged in conversations about life and the power of words.

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