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While the other oceans are defined by the continents that fence them in, the Southern Ocean is defined by a current: the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), which surrounds it.
The ACC flows from west to east around Antarctica. Inside the ACC, the waters are colder and slightly less salty than ocean waters to the north.
Furthermore, the ACC helps keep Antarctica cold and the Southern Ocean ecologically distinct, with thousands of species living only there.
Since National Geographic began making maps in 1915, it has recognized four oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic Oceans. Starting on the World Oceans Day 2021 (June 8) it has also recognized the Southern Ocean as the world’s fifth ocean.
It has long been recognized by scientists, but the lack of an international agreement kept the editors from formally adding it to the list.
The Southern Ocean has a few characteristics that make it stand out from the other 4 oceans:
The ACC is estimated to have been established 34 million years ago, when Antarctica separated from South America.
The ACC has a crucial impact on Earth’s climate: it transports more water than any other ocean current, helping drive a global circulation system known as the conveyor belt, which transports heat around the planet.
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