The world now has a fifth ocean

The new ocean presents an absolutely unique array of mysteries and beauties: for National Geographic, the world now has a fifth ocean.

What is an ocean? The question is simple and complicated at the same time. Because, yes, we use the word "ocean" rather casually, even in derivative words such as "transatlantic" or "overseas", to refer to Americans and the relationships that bind ours to the countries of the New Continent. But when does a sea become an ocean? And how many oceans are there on Earth?

The question is not trivial, since we are talking about waters, moreover largely unexplored, which represent 70% of the Earth's surface. Well, an "ocean" is the set of vast expanses of salt water present on the Earth's surface, a unique and continuous complex that surrounds the continents and islands (this is the definition of the Treccani dictionary).

The beauty is that such a precise definition has not agreed with all scholars, because, unlike what happens with land, the number of oceans varies according to convention.

Let's go in order.

How many oceans are there on Earth?

The Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Arctic. If we use more "inclusive" criteria, the difference concerns just the last of the four: that in Italy, often, is defined as sea, then Arctic Ocean. Consequently, for our map experts, the oceans would be "only" three. Pacific, Indian and Atlantic. It seems, however, that things are about to change again, with the definition of a fifth ocean even.

What is and where is the "new" ocean?

It is the Antarctic Ocean, which National Geographic has announced it has included in its maps and resources from June 8, World Oceans Day. The body of water surrounds, as you can easily tell from the name, Antarctica and extends to the 60-degree latitude boundary to the south.

The issue is not only notional, but involves a number of aspects concerning ecology and conservation issues, as the newborn Antarctic Ocean, a concept certainly not unknown to those interested in geography, presents a very personal range of wonders: here, for example, is the largest marine protected area in the world, formed to protect waters rich in nutrients where you can find krill, plankton, penguins, whales and more.

"Anyone who's been there will struggle to explain what's so fascinating about it, but they'll all agree that the glaciers are bluer, the air is colder, the mountains are more intimidating and the landscapes more captivating than anywhere else," is the declaration of love given to National Geographic by marine scientist Seth Sykora-Bodie.

Other interesting news regarding the vast expanses of water that characterize our planet have involved "ghost" ships and mysterious alien tracks.

Giuseppe Giordano