Earth now has a 5th ocean, according to National Geographic, which upgraded the status of the waters around Antarctica

Wedel sea
Icebergs on the Weddell sea, part of the Southern ocean. Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images
  • National Geographic said on Tuesday it will be adding a fifth ocean to its maps.

  • The Southern Ocean is the second-smallest ocean and surrounds the Antarctic.

  • The move was long-awaited, as scientists have been using the term for years.

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National Geographic announced this week that it is officially recognizing a fifth ocean: the Southern Ocean.

This body of water lies around the Antarctic, stretching from the coastline to the 60 degrees latitude mark.

All oceans are connected, so in a way, there is only one ocean. But the planet's waters have been traditionally split into four regions: the Pacific, Atlantic, Arctic, and Indian oceans.

The change makes the Southern Ocean the second-smallest, only bigger than the Arctic ocean.

Adding the Southern Ocean makes scientific sense because it is a distinct ecological region, according to Alex Tait, National Geographic's geographer.

It is served by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which brings colder and less salty water than more Northern regions of the ocean, CBS News reported.

By adding a fifth ocean, the magazine is breaking away from guidance from the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO).

The organization, which sets the rules for sea mapping, has not ratified a proposal to add the Southern Ocean, which was first submitted in 2000.

Several countries, including the US, recognize the ocean anyway. Most scientists and IHO members use the name, Tait said.

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