Ocean No. 5

In case you’ve missed it, National Geographic has decided to officially recognize the ocean immediately around Antartica as the Southern Ocean. It therefore becomes the fifth official “ocean”–as distinct from seas like the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, Caribbean Sea, and the South China Sea and countless bays, coves, and inlets. If you’ve forgotten this lesson from your geography class, the other official oceans are the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and the Arctic Ocean.

The National Geographic decision is a kind of belated codification of the status of the Southern Ocean, which many countries and geographers have recognized for a while. They point out that the Southern Ocean is just different in feel, in composition, in appearance, and in danger than other oceans. The Southern Ocean is defined by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which is a kind of moving water barrier that is colder, and less salty, than the surrounding water in other oceans.

One article describes the Southern Ocean in a way that makes it sound like an interesting place that would be well worth visiting:

“The Southern Ocean is unlike anywhere else on Earth. ‘Anyone who has been there will struggle to explain what’s so mesmerizing about it,’ says Seth Sykora-Bodie, a marine scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a National Geographic Explorer.  ‘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 Southern Ocean is a violent place. It’s where many of the massive swells that run into Teahupoo and Cloudbreak are born. In 2017, a wave of nearly unheard of proportions was measured there. Not only does it look different, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current is extraordinarily important to the Earth’s climate. It transports more water than any other current in any other ocean, sucking in water from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. It’s a driving force behind the global circulation system called the conveyor belt, which moves warm waters all over the planet.”

(In case you’re interested and don’t want to click on the link above, the wave that is mentioned in the above snip was 64 feet tall–in the open ocean. 64 feet!)

It’s interesting to look at that map of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean at the top of this post. Most world maps don’t show Antarctica in its full glory, and show only a bit of it at the bottom of the map. Looking at it makes me interested in potentially seeing it one of these days–as long as I have assurance that we don’t encounter any 64-foot waves.