_New Ocean

June 14, 2021

A New Ocean?

You likely learned about the Earth's four named oceans as a kid, but the next generation will likely know a fifth!
What To Know & Why It Matters


  • One ocean covers 71% of the Earth.
  • Historically, we’ve recognized four distinct areas: Pacific, Indian, Arctic, & Atlantic.
  • Backstory: The Southern Ocean (the water surrounding Antarctica) was recognized by the Int’l Hydrographic Org. (IHO), a global body that surveys the world’s waters, until the 1950s. It stopped due to lack of agreement among countries.
  • The U.S.’ Nat’l Oceanic & Atmospheric Admin. (NOAA) recognized the Southern Ocean in 1999, but it is *still* not commonly used.
"We've always labeled it, but we labeled it slightly differently [than other oceans] … This change was taking the last step and saying we want to recognize it because of its ecological separation."

National Geographic Society geographer Alex Tait, who explained that although the Southern Ocean has been recognized by scientists and others for some time, the lack of agreement among other countries and the int’l scientific community prevented National Geographic from officially recognizing it as a unique, distinct area — until now.

Why It Matters:

  • On June 8 (World Oceans Day), the National Geographic Society began recognizing the Southern Ocean as the “world’s fifth ocean” and naming it on maps.
  • The National Geographic Society isn’t just a magazine publisher – it’s a world leader in science and exploration since 1888.
  • Nat Geo has made maps since 1915; some call it a “mapping standard for a lot of other atlases and maps out there.
  • Nat Geo’s decision will likely set the precedent for others around the world.
"… it is the only ocean to touch three others and to completely embrace a continent rather than being embraced by them."

Marine biologist and National Geographic Explorer at Large Sylvia Earle describes the Southern Ocean’s unique current, considered the strongest in the world; it flows in a circular motion and connects to the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.

“Anyone who has been there will struggle to explain what’s so mesmerizing about it … the glaciers are bluer, the air colder, the mountains more intimidating, and the landscapes more captivating than anywhere else you can go,” NOAA marine scientist & Nat Geo Explorer Seth Sykora-Bodie said of the Southern Ocean. Despite Nat Geo’s change, the International Hydrographic Organization still has yet to formally re-recognize a distinct “Southern Ocean” as international disagreement continues.

National Geographic Recognizes a Fifth Ocean

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Five Oceans

USA Today Report on Nat Geo’s Recent Recognition

National Geographic Maps

  • What are the oceans named after / more info.?

Pacific Ocean; Atlantic Ocean; Indian Ocean; Arctic Ocean; Southern Ocean (see page 39 – under “July 28 Proposal to Name the Southern Ocean

More Info. on the Southern Ocean (CIA “World Factbook”)

by Jenna Lee,