Introducing the Southern Ocean
When you think back to your days of learning about the continents and oceans of the world, you probably learned that there were only four oceans in the world. And while it is true that those are four oceans of the world, each with their own specific geographical boundaries, in the year 2000 newer research and education classified the area from the coast of Antarctica north to 60 degrees south latitude as a new ocean, called The Southern Ocean. Somehow, we missed that down south, along the coastal shoreline of Antarctica, there is a Southern Ocean crashing on the shores. Okay, well we didn’t miss it, but scientists are now redefining it.
Where is the Southern Ocean?
Designated in 2000 by the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), the Southern Ocean (also known as either the Antarctic Ocean or the South Polar Ocean) completely surrounds Antarctica, including parts of what previously would have been defined as the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. Yes, this new-ish ocean is made up of parts of three of the world’s other oceans. Formally, it goes from the coast of Antarctica northward to 60 degrees of latitude South, and falls as the fourth largest of the (now) five oceans.
Why do we need the Southern Ocean?
To rock the boat, the IHO declared, named and demarcated the Southern Ocean after much research into ocean currents and water circulation patterns around the world. The Southern Ocean is home to the world’s largest ocean current, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which flows in an eastward direction and moves the equivalent of 100 times the flow of all of the world’s rivers. Not only is it significant that there is a current of this magnitude that was previously not denoted in its own body of water, but also it is significant that there is an ocean circulation, unique to the Southern Ocean, which sets it out as its own eco-system. In other words, because of this current pattern and the location of this body of water, the ocean houses its own unique habitat which is not seen anywhere else in the world.
Researchers first began to recognize or suspect this because of El Nino, and the weather patterns it created, as well as due to the rising interest in global warming and observing the consequences of this phenomenon on the world’s oceans. This combination of newly understood geographical current patterns, as well as differing reaction to weather patterns, tipped scientists off that these behaviors within this body of water meant it was not simply a combination of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. As a result, everyone agreed that it needed to be defined as its own separate ocean altogether.
In addition to the fact that it contains the world’s largest ocean current, the existence of this additional ocean is important to continue understanding because it is nearly 20.3 million square kilometers in size – about twice the size of the USA. It goes down 7,235 meters below sea level and varies in temperature from negative two degrees Celsius up to ten degrees Celsius.
So, What Are the Oceans of the World?
- The Pacific Ocean – The largest ocean covering more than 155.5 million square kilometers.
- The Atlantic Ocean – The second largest ocean covering over 76.7 million square kilometers.
- The Indian Ocean – The third largest ocean covering nearly 68.5 million square kilometers.
- The Southern Ocean – The fourth largest ocean covering 20.3 million square kilometers.
- The Arctic Ocean – The smallest ocean comes in about 14 million square kilometers.
With a better understanding of the geography and characteristics of this seemingly new body of water, it is increasingly clear why the world needed to declare another ocean. Even if it is simply a part of the body of water that covers the entire planet and ultimately connects all the land and water as one: the world ocean.