Seawords Featured Article – September

The New Fifth Ocean
By: Brenna Loving, UH Windward CC MOP Student

You are probably familiar with the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, and Arctic oceans, recognized by the world as the four major oceans of Earth. However, there is officially a new ocean to be added to the mix– the Southern Ocean.

Scientists have agreed for years that this body of water around Antarctica is different from any other ocean, but the official recognition internationally of the Southern Ocean as the fifth ocean in the world came on June 8th of this year’s World Oceans Day.

What makes this ocean different from the rest? The Southern Ocean functions in an entirely different way than the other four oceans, and is geographically positioned differently as well. The other oceans are defined by the continents that surround them, whereas the Southern Ocean is defined by the continent of Antarctica, which it surrounds. The division between the Southern Ocean and all other oceans to which it is connected is determined by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, or ACC. This current flows west to east around Antarctica and borders a difference in ocean water from the surrounding water. Inside the current, the water is colder and not as salty as the surrounding waters. Additionally, the current pulls in water from all of the world’s oceans, thus serving as a driving force for the “conveyor belt” mechanism of all oceans for transporting heat to different parts of the world as cold water sinks towards Antarctica.

This cold water serves an important role in the migratory patterns of various species of whales and seabirds. It is also a home to certain species of whales, penguins, sea birds, and seals that thrive uniquely in this environment. However, the effects of climate change have gradually increased the temperature in this ocean, and thus impacted the organisms that inhabit it. Those effects are still being monitored and studied by scientists.

The distinction of the Southern Ocean internationally also serves as a conservation opportunity for the National Geographic Society and other organizations that wish to bring awareness to this body of water. With a separate classification and distinction, attention can be better directed towards this ocean and all of the factors that make it worth focusing on when discussing climate change and conservation. The unique structure and biodiversity of the Southern Ocean play a large role in the health of all of the world’s oceans, and consequently deserves extra attention and conservation when combating climate change.