view from front of a ship as it sails toward snow-covered land

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On the Map!

Scientists made a big announcement this past spring—there’s now a fifth ocean on the map. No, a new body of water didn’t just appear out of thin air. But, for the first time, the Southern Ocean will officially be labeled on maps made by the National Geographic Society (NGS).

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The Southern Ocean has long been recognized by most scientists and geographers. But some debated about the body of water that surrounds Antarctica. Did it have enough unique characteristics, like the Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, and Indian oceans do, to be called an ocean?

In June, NGS scientists determined that it does. For one, the Southern Ocean is defined by a strong current that flows from west to east around Antarctica. This separates it from the other oceans and keeps warm waters away. So the water in the Southern Ocean is much colder and less salty than that of other oceans.

Alex Tait is a cartographer, or mapmaker, at NGS. He hopes that officially recognizing the Southern Ocean will bring more awareness to the unique waters. But he also wants people to realize that it’s part of something bigger.

“When we name oceans, we’re really naming regions,” Tait explains. “All the ocean waters on Earth are connected—there’s really just one ocean.”

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The Southern Ocean is home to about 2.5 million Adélie penguins, which live only around Antarctica.