turbulent ocean water seen from above
Jade Small
Jade Small
February 18, 2024 ·  3 min read

Did you know the world has a fifth ocean?

Think back to the time at school when the subject matter was reading maps. We learned the geographical points on the map, like the Greenwich meridian, the equator, and the four oceans. However, there have been some recent developments regarding the world’s seas. We now welcome the fifth ocean to the world map. The Southern Ocean joins the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic with official global recognition.

The World’s Fifth Ocean Finally Recognized

Since June 2021, the world’s fifth ocean has finally been given its rightful name on the maps of the globe. Scientists are adamantly naming the new addition to the map, the Southern Ocean, and the latest maps will see the five oceans labeled appropriately. But why has this only come about now?

The Fifth Ocean is defined by the ACC
Image credit: Pexels

Prior to 2021, there was some debate surrounding the seas of the world and what actually constituted an oceanic body of water. As it turns out, it was simply a matter of agreement. Scientists across the globe couldn’t come to a unanimous understanding that the South Ocean was separate because they couldn’t agree on its borders. It is located along Antarctica’s coastline to the 60 degrees South latitude line.

“The Southern Ocean has long been recognized by scientists, but because there was never agreement internationally, we never officially recognized it,” said Alex Tait, National Geographic’s Society Geographer. “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.”

What Defines it?

The fifth ocean differs slightly from the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic oceans. The originally labeled four oceans were constituted by the continents that surrounded them. Unlike the rest, the newbie is defined by the current that flows through it. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) has been around for millions of years, which makes it a wonder why it has only now gained global recognition. Scientists say it started when Antarctica separated from the bottom of South America. When this happened, the flow of water around the bottom of the world was uninterrupted.

New label for an old ocean
Image credit: Pexels

The ACC, which flows from west to east, is responsible for the global conveyer belt that delivers warmth around the world. The ACC itself is cooler and denser and facilitates carbon storage within the deep parts of the sea. It flows through all the waters surrounding Antarctica, except for the Scotia and the Drake Seas. Because of the ACC, the fifth is much colder and less salty than the waters of the North.

Impact the Fifth ocean’s Recognition Has on the World

Now that it has gained official recognition, schools across the globe have to rethink their syllabus. The education systems will need to include the new addition in their teachings, along with the current and how that filters the water worldwide. “Students learn information about the ocean world through what oceans you’re studying. If you don’t include the Southern Ocean, then you don’t learn the specifics of it and how important it is,” said Alex Tait of National Geographic.

“Anyone who has been there will struggle to explain what’s so mesmerizing about it,” said Seth Sykora-Bodie, an NOAA marine scientist. “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.”

Glaciers in Antarctica
Image credit: Pexels

Keep Reading: Geologists Say a New Ocean is Opening Up in Africa and ‘Splitting it in Two’


  1. The world now has a fifth ocean.Pop Sci. Hannah Seo. June 10, 2021
  2. Earth’s fifth ocean just confirmed.Live Science. Tom Metcalfe. June 14, 2021.
  3. Southern Ocean Officially Recognized as the Fifth Ocean of the World.Green Matters. Lizzy Rosenberg. June 14 2021.