National Geographic recognizes a fifth ocean -- the Southern Ocean

It’s time to get a new map.

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Cartographers at National Geographic announced Tuesday it would now officially recognize a new fifth ocean -- the Southern Ocean. The announcement came on World Oceans Day.

Officials at National Geographic said the swift current that circles Antarctica keeps the waters distinct, making the body of water worthy of a separate name.

Since National Geographic began making maps in 1915, it has recognized four oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic oceans.

The organization said the time is right for a fifth ocean.

“The Southern Ocean has long been recognized by scientists, but because there was never agreement internationally, we never officially recognized it,” National Geographic Society Geographer Alex Tait said in an interview with the magazine.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said the federal agency recognized the body as the fifth ocean in 1999 when the U.S. Board on Geographic Names approved the name “Southern Ocean,” The Washington Post reported.

There had been debate about whether the waters around Antarctica were more than cold, southern extensions of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.

“It’s sort of geographic nerdiness in some ways,” Tait told the magazine.

Since the late 1970s, the National Geographic Society has employed a geographer who oversees changes to all maps that are published. Tait has held that position since 2016, the Post reported.

Tait said the Southern Ocean deserves its designation.

“We think it’s really important from an educational standpoint, as well as from a map-labeling standpoint, to bring attention to the Southern Ocean as a fifth ocean,” Tait told the Post. “So when students learn about parts of the ocean world, they learn it’s an interconnected ocean, and they learn there’s these regions called oceans that are really important, and there’s a distinct one in the icy waters around Antarctica.”

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