The Southern Ocean, also known as the Antarctic Ocean,[note 4] comprises the southernmost waters of the
world ocean, generally taken to be south of
60° S latitude and encircling
Antarctica. With a size of 20,327,000 km2 (7,848,000 sq mi), it is regarded as the second-smallest of the five principal oceanic divisions: smaller than the
Indian oceans but larger than the
Arctic Ocean. Since the 1980s, the Southern Ocean has been subject to rapid climate change, which has led to changes in the marine ecosystem.
By way of his voyages in the 1770s,
James Cook proved that waters encompassed the southern latitudes of the globe. Since then, geographers have disagreed on the Southern Ocean's northern boundary or even existence, considering the waters as various parts of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans, instead. However, according to Commodore John Leech of the
International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), recent oceanographic research has discovered the importance of
Southern Circulation, and the term Southern Ocean has been used to define the body of water which lies south of the northern limit of that circulation. This remains the current official policy of the IHO, since a 2000 revision of its definitions including the Southern Ocean as the waters south of the 60th parallel has not yet been adopted. Others regard the seasonally-fluctuating
Antarctic Convergence as the natural boundary. This
oceanic zone is where cold, northward flowing waters from the Antarctic mix with warmer
The maximum depth of the Southern Ocean, using the definition that it lies south of 60th parallel, was surveyed by the
Five Deeps Expedition in early February 2019. The expedition's multibeam sonar team identified the deepest point at 60° 28' 46"S, 025° 32' 32"W, with a depth of 7,434 metres (24,390 ft). The expedition leader and chief submersible pilot
Victor Vescovo, has proposed naming this deepest point in the Southern Ocean the "Factorian Deep", based on the name of the crewed submersible DSV Limiting Factor, in which he successfully visited the bottom for the first time on February 3, 2019.
Borders and names for oceans and seas were internationally agreed when the
International Hydrographic Bureau, the precursor to the IHO, convened the First International Conference on 24 July 1919. The IHO then published these in its Limits of Oceans and Seas, the first edition being 1928. Since the first edition, the limits of the Southern Ocean have moved progressively southwards; since 1953, it has been omitted from the official publication and left to local hydrographic offices to determine their own limits.
The IHO included the ocean and its definition as the waters south of the
60th parallel south in its 2000 revisions, but this has not been formally adopted, due to continuing impasses about some of the content, such as the
naming dispute over the
Sea of Japan. The 2000 IHO definition, however, was circulated in a draft edition in 2002, and is used by some within the IHO and by some other organizations such as the CIA World Factbook and
National Geographic Society recognized the ocean officially in June 2021. Prior to this, it depicted it in a typeface different from the other world oceans; instead, it shows the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans extending to Antarctica on both its print and online maps. Map publishers using the term Southern Ocean on their maps include Hema Maps and GeoNova.
"Southern Ocean" is an obsolete name for the Pacific Ocean or South Pacific, coined by
Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the first European to discover it, who approached it from the north. The "South Seas" is a less archaic synonym. A 1745 British
Act of Parliament established a prize for discovering a
Northwest Passage to "the Western and Southern Ocean of America".
Authors using "Southern Ocean" to name the waters encircling the unknown southern polar regions used varying limits.
James Cook's account of
his second voyage implies
New Caledonia borders it. Peacock's 1795 Geographical Dictionary said it lay "to the southward of America and Africa"; John Payne in 1796 used 40 degrees as the northern limit; the 1827 Edinburgh Gazetteer used 50 degrees. The Family Magazine in 1835 divided the "Great Southern Ocean" into the "Southern Ocean" and the "Antarctick [sic] Ocean" along the Antarctic Circle, with the northern limit of the Southern Ocean being lines joining Cape Horn, the Cape of Good Hope, Van Diemen's Land and the south of New Zealand.
In the 1928 first edition of Limits of Oceans and Seas, the Southern Ocean was delineated by land-based limits: Antarctica to the south, and South America, Africa, Australia, and
Broughton Island, New Zealand to the north.
The limit then followed the west coast of Tasmania southwards to the
South East Cape and then went eastwards to Broughton Island, New Zealand, before returning to Cape Horn.
The northern limits of the Southern Ocean were moved southwards in the IHO's 1937 second edition of the Limits of Oceans and Seas. From this edition, much of the ocean's northern limit ceased to abut land masses.
In the second edition, the Southern Ocean then extended from Antarctica northwards to latitude 40°S between
Cape Agulhas in Africa (long. 20°E) and
Cape Leeuwin in Western Australia (long. 115°E), and extended to latitude 55°S between
Auckland Island of New Zealand (165 or 166°E east) and
Cape Horn in South America (67°W).
As is discussed in more detail below, prior to the 2002 edition the limits of oceans explicitly excluded the seas lying within each of them. The
Great Australian Bight was unnamed in the 1928 edition, and delineated as shown in the figure above in the 1937 edition. It therefore encompassed former Southern Ocean waters—as designated in 1928—but was technically not inside any of the three adjacent oceans by 1937.
In the 2002 draft edition, the IHO have designated 'seas' as being subdivisions within 'oceans', so the Bight would have still been within the Southern Ocean in 1937 if the 2002 convention were in place then. To perform direct comparisons of current and former limits of oceans it is necessary to consider, or at least be aware of, how the 2002 change in IHO terminology for 'seas' can affect the comparison.
The Southern Ocean did not appear in the 1953 third edition of Limits of Oceans and Seas, a note in the publication read:
The Antarctic or Southern Ocean has been omitted from this publication as the majority of opinions received since the issue of the 2nd Edition in 1937 are to the effect that there exists no real justification for applying the term Ocean to this body of water, the northern limits of which are difficult to lay down owing to their seasonal change. The limits of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans have therefore been extended South to the Antarctic Continent. Hydrographic Offices who issue separate publications dealing with this area are therefore left to decide their own northern limits (Great Britain uses Latitude of 55 South.): 4
Instead, in the IHO 1953 publication, the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans were extended southward, the Indian and Pacific Oceans (which had not previously touched pre 1953, as per the first and second editions) now abutted at the meridian of
South East Cape, and the southern limits of the
Great Australian Bight and the
Tasman Sea were moved northwards.
2002 draft delineation
Area inside the black line indicates the area constituting the Pacific Ocean prior to 2002; darker blue areas are its informal current borders following the recreation of the Southern Ocean and the reinclusion of marginal seas.
The IHO readdressed the question of the Southern Ocean in a survey in 2000. Of its 68 member nations, 28 responded, and all responding members except Argentina agreed to redefine the ocean, reflecting the importance placed by oceanographers on ocean currents. The proposal for the name Southern Ocean won 18 votes, beating the alternative Antarctic Ocean. Half of the votes supported a definition of the ocean's northern limit at the
60th parallel south—with no land interruptions at this latitude—with the other 14 votes cast for other definitions, mostly the
50th parallel south, but a few for as far north as the
35th parallel south. Notably the
Southern Ocean Observing System collates data from latitudes higher than 40 degrees south.
A draft fourth edition of Limits of Oceans and Seas was circulated to IHO member states in August 2002 (sometimes referred to as the "2000 edition" as it summarized the progress to 2000). It has yet to be published due to 'areas of concern' by several countries relating to various naming issues around the world – primarily the
Sea of Japan naming dispute – and there have been various changes, 60 seas were given new names, and even the name of the publication was changed. A reservation had also been lodged by Australia regarding the Southern Ocean limits. Effectively, the third edition—which did not delineate the Southern Ocean leaving delineation to local hydrographic offices—has yet to be superseded.
Continents and islands of the Southern Ocean
Despite this, the fourth edition definition has partial de facto usage by many nations, scientists, and organisations such as the U.S. (the CIA World Factbook uses "Southern Ocean", but none of the other new sea names within the "Southern Ocean", such as the "
Cosmonauts Sea") and
Merriam-Webster, scientists and nations – and even by some within the IHO. Some nations' hydrographic offices have defined their own boundaries; the United Kingdom used the
55th parallel south for example. Other organisations favour more northerly limits for the Southern Ocean. For example, Encyclopædia Britannica describes the Southern Ocean as extending as far north as South America, and confers great significance on the
Antarctic Convergence, yet its description of the Indian Ocean contradicts this, describing the Indian Ocean as extending south to Antarctica.
A radical shift from past IHO practices (1928–1953) was also seen in the 2002 draft edition when the IHO delineated 'seas' as being subdivisions that lay within the boundaries of 'oceans'. While the IHO are often considered the authority for such conventions, the shift brought them into line with the practices of other publications (e.g. the CIA World Fact Book) which already adopted the principle that seas are contained within oceans. This difference in practice is markedly seen for the Pacific Ocean in the adjacent figure. Thus, for example, previously the
Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand was not regarded by the IHO as being part of the Pacific, but as of the 2002 draft edition it is.
The new delineation of seas being subdivisions of oceans has avoided the need to interrupt the northern boundary of the Southern Ocean where intersected by
Drake Passage which includes all of the waters from South America to the Antarctic coast, nor interrupt it for the
Scotia Sea, which also extends below the 60th parallel south. The new delineation of seas has also meant that the long-time named seas around Antarctica, excluded from the 1953 edition (the 1953 map did not even extend that far south), are 'automatically' part of the Southern Ocean.
A map of Australia's official interpretation of the names and limits of oceans and seas around Australia
cartographical authorities define the Southern Ocean as including the entire body of water between Antarctica and the south coasts of Australia and New Zealand, and up to 60°S elsewhere. Coastal maps of
South Australia label the sea areas as Southern Ocean and
Cape Leeuwin in
Western Australia is described as the point where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet.
The 1564 Typus Orbis Terrarum, a map by
Abraham Ortelius, showed the imagined link between the proposed continent of Antarctica and
Exploration of the Southern Ocean was inspired by a belief in the existence of a Terra Australis – a vast continent in the far south of the globe to "balance" the northern lands of Eurasia and North Africa – which had existed since the times of
Ptolemy. The rounding of the
Cape of Good Hope in 1487 by
Bartolomeu Dias first brought explorers within touch of the Antarctic cold, and proved that there was an ocean separating Africa from any Antarctic land that might exist.Ferdinand Magellan, who passed through the
Strait of Magellan in 1520, assumed that the islands of
Tierra del Fuego to the south were an extension of this unknown southern land. In 1564,
Abraham Ortelius published his first map, Typus Orbis Terrarum, an eight-leaved wall map of the world, on which he identified the Regio Patalis with Locach as a northward extension of the Terra Australis, reaching as far as
European geographers continued to connect the coast of Tierra del Fuego with the coast of New Guinea on their globes, and allowing their imaginations to run riot in the vast unknown spaces of the south Atlantic, south Indian and Pacific oceans they sketched the outlines of the Terra Australis Incognita ("Unknown Southern Land"), a vast continent stretching in parts into the tropics. The search for this great south land was a leading motive of explorers in the 16th and the early part of the 17th centuries.
SpaniardGabriel de Castilla, who claimed having sighted "snow-covered mountains" beyond the
64° S in 1603, is recognized as the first explorer that discovered the continent of Antarctica, although he was ignored in his time.
Pedro Fernández de Quirós took possession for the king of Spain all of the lands he had discovered in Australia del Espiritu Santo (the
New Hebrides) and those he would discover "even to the Pole".
Francis Drake, like Spanish explorers before him, had speculated that there might be an open channel south of Tierra del Fuego. When
Willem Schouten and
Jacob Le Maire discovered the southern extremity of Tierra del Fuego and named it
Cape Horn in 1615, they proved that the Tierra del Fuego archipelago was of small extent and not connected to the southern land, as previously thought. Subsequently, in 1642,
Abel Tasman showed that even
New Holland (Australia) was separated by sea from any continuous southern continent.
Yves Joseph Kerguelen sailed from
France with instructions to proceed south from
Mauritius in search of "a very large continent". He lighted upon a land in
50° S which he called South France, and believed to be the central mass of the southern continent. He was sent out again to complete the exploration of the new land, and found it to be only an inhospitable island which he renamed the Isle of Desolation, but which
was ultimately named after him.
The obsession of the undiscovered continent culminated in the brain of
Alexander Dalrymple, the brilliant and erratic
hydrographer who was nominated by the
Royal Society to command the
Transit of Venus expedition to
Tahiti in 1769. The command of the expedition was given by the admiralty to Captain
James Cook. Sailing in 1772 with Resolution, a vessel of 462 tons under his own command and Adventure of 336 tons under Captain
Tobias Furneaux, Cook first searched in vain for
Bouvet Island, then sailed for 20 degrees of longitude to the westward in
latitude 58° S, and then 30° eastward for the most part south of
60° S, a lower southern latitude than had ever been voluntarily entered before by any vessel. On 17 January 1773 the
Antarctic Circle was crossed for the first time in history and the two ships reached 67° 15' S by 39° 35' E, where their course was stopped by ice.
Famous official portrait of Captain
James Cook who proved that waters encompassed the southern latitudes of the globe. "He holds his own chart of the Southern Ocean on the table and his right hand points to the east coast of Australia on it."
Cook then turned northward to look for
French Southern and Antarctic Lands, of the discovery of which he had received news at
Cape Town, but from the rough determination of his longitude by Kerguelen, Cook reached the assigned latitude 10° too far east and did not see it. He turned south again and was stopped by ice in 61° 52′ S by 95° E and continued eastward nearly on the parallel of
60° S to
147° E. On 16 March, the approaching winter drove him northward for rest to New Zealand and the tropical islands of the Pacific. In November 1773, Cook left New Zealand, having parted company with the Adventure, and reached
60° S by
177° W, whence he sailed eastward keeping as far south as the floating ice allowed. The Antarctic Circle was crossed on 20 December and Cook remained south of it for three days, being compelled after reaching 67° 31′ S to stand north again in
A long detour to 47° 50′ S served to show that there was no land connection between New Zealand and
Tierra del Fuego. Turning south again, Cook crossed the Antarctic Circle for the third time at 109° 30′ W before his progress was once again blocked by ice four days later at 71° 10′ S by 106° 54′ W. This point, reached on 30 January 1774, was the farthest south attained in the 18th century. With a great detour to the east, almost to the coast of South America, the expedition regained Tahiti for refreshment. In November 1774, Cook started from New Zealand and crossed the South Pacific without sighting land between
57° S to Tierra del Fuego; then, passing Cape Horn on 29 December, he rediscovered
Roché Island renaming it
Isle of Georgia, and discovered the
South Sandwich Islands (named Sandwich Land by him), the only ice-clad land he had seen, before crossing the South Atlantic to the Cape of Good Hope between
60°. He thereby laid open the way for future Antarctic exploration by exploding the myth of a habitable southern continent. Cook's most southerly discovery of land lay on the temperate side of the
60th parallel, and he convinced himself that if land lay farther south it was practically inaccessible and without economic value.
Voyagers rounding Cape Horn frequently met with contrary winds and were driven southward into snowy skies and ice-encumbered seas; but so far as can be ascertained none of them before 1770 reached the Antarctic Circle, or knew it, if they did.
In a voyage from 1822 to 1824,
James Weddell commanded the 160-ton
brigJane, accompanied by his second ship Beaufoy captained by Matthew Brisbane. Together they sailed to the South Orkneys where
sealing proved disappointing. They turned south in the hope of finding a better sealing ground. The season was unusually mild and tranquil, and on 20 February 1823 the two ships reached
latitude 74°15' S and
longitude 34°16'45″ W the southernmost position any ship had ever reached up to that time. A few icebergs were sighted but there was still no sight of land, leading Weddell to theorize that the sea continued as far as the South Pole. Another two days' sailing would have brought him to
Coat's Land (to the east of the
Weddell Sea) but Weddell decided to turn back.
In the meantime, the Spanish Navy ship San Telmo sank in September 1819 when trying to cross Cape Horn. Parts of her wreckage were found months later by sealers on the north coast of
Livingston Island (
South Shetlands). It is unknown if some survivor managed to be the first to set foot on these Antarctic islands.
Historical maps showing a southern ocean between Antarctica and the continents of South America, Africa and Australia
1683 map by French cartographer
Alain Manesson Mallet from his publication Description de L'Univers. Shows a sea below both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at a time when
Tierra del Fuego was believed joined to Antarctica. Sea is named Mer Magellanique after
A New Map of Asia, from the Latest Authorities, by
John Cary, Engraver, 1806, shows the Southern Ocean lying to the south of both the Indian Ocean and Australia.
Freycinet Map of 1811 – resulted from the 1800–1803 French
Baudin expedition to Australia and was the first full map of Australia ever to be published. In French, the map named the ocean immediately below Australia as the Grand Océan Austral (‘Great Southern Ocean’).
1863 map of Australia shows the Southern Ocean lying immediately to the south of Australia.
1906 map by German publisher
Justus Perthes showing Antarctica encompassed by an Antarktischer (Sudl. Eismeer) Ocean – the ‘Antarctic (South Arctic) Ocean’.
In 1946, US Navy Rear Admiral
Richard E. Byrd and more than 4,700 military personnel visited the Antarctic in an expedition called
Operation Highjump. Reported to the public as a scientific mission, the details were kept secret and it may have actually been a training or testing mission for the military. The expedition was, in both military or scientific planning terms, put together very quickly. The group contained an unusually high amount of military equipment, including an aircraft carrier, submarines, military support ships, assault troops and military vehicles. The expedition was planned to last for eight months but was unexpectedly terminated after only two months. With the exception of some eccentric entries in Admiral Byrd's diaries, no real explanation for the early termination has ever been officially given.
Finn Ronne, Byrd's executive officer, returned to Antarctica with
his own expedition in 1947–1948, with Navy support, three planes, and dogs. Ronne disproved the notion that the continent was divided in two and established that East and West Antarctica was one single continent, i.e. that the Weddell Sea and the Ross Sea are not connected. The expedition explored and mapped large parts of Palmer Land and the Weddell Sea coastline, and identified the
Ronne Ice Shelf, named by Ronne after his wife
Edith "Jackie" Ronne. Ronne covered 3,600 miles (5,790 km) by ski and dog sled – more than any other explorer in history. The
Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition discovered and mapped the last unknown coastline in the world and was the first Antarctic expedition to ever include women.
MS Explorer in Antarctica in January 1999. She sank on 23 November 2007 after hitting an
The first person to sail single-handed to Antarctica was the New Zealander
David Henry Lewis, in 1972, in a 10-metre (30 ft) steel sloop Ice Bird.
A baby, named
Emilio Marcos de Palma, was born near
Hope Bay on 7 January 1978, becoming the first baby born on the continent. He also was born further south than anyone in history.
MV Explorer was a
cruise ship operated by the
Lars-Eric Lindblad. Observers point to Explorer's 1969 expeditionary cruise to
Antarctica as the frontrunner for today's[when?] sea-based tourism in that region.Explorer was the first cruise ship used specifically to sail the icy waters of the Antarctic Ocean and the first to sink there when she struck an unidentified submerged object on 23 November 2007, reported to be ice, which caused a 10 by 4 inches (25 by 10 cm) gash in the hull.Explorer was abandoned in the early hours of 23 November 2007 after taking on water near the
South Shetland Islands in the Southern Ocean, an area which is usually stormy but was calm at the time.Explorer was confirmed by the
Chilean Navy to have sunk at approximately position: 62° 24′ South, 57° 16′ West, in roughly 600 m of water.
With a northern limit at
60°S, the Southern Ocean differs from the other oceans in that its largest boundary, the northern boundary, does not abut a landmass (as it did with the first edition of Limits of Oceans and Seas). Instead, the northern limit is with the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans.
One reason for considering it as a separate ocean stems from the fact that much of the water of the Southern Ocean differs from the water in the other oceans. Water gets transported around the Southern Ocean fairly rapidly because of the
Antarctic Circumpolar Current which circulates around Antarctica. Water in the Southern Ocean south of, for example, New Zealand, resembles the water in the Southern Ocean south of South America more closely than it resembles the water in the Pacific Ocean.
The Southern Ocean has typical depths of between 4,000 and 5,000 m (13,000 and 16,000 ft) over most of its extent with only limited areas of shallow water. The Southern Ocean's greatest depth of 7,236 m (23,740 ft) occurs at the southern end of the
South Sandwich Trench, at 60°00'S, 024°W. The
Antarctic continental shelf appears generally narrow and unusually deep, its edge lying at depths up to 800 m (2,600 ft), compared to a global mean of 133 m (436 ft).
Equinox to equinox in line with the sun's seasonal influence, the Antarctic ice pack fluctuates from an average minimum of 2.6 million square kilometres (1.0×10^6 sq mi) in March to about 18.8 million square kilometres (7.3×10^6 sq mi) in September, more than a sevenfold increase in area.
Sub-divisions of the Southern Ocean
Seas that are parts of the Southern Ocean
Sub-divisions of oceans are geographical features such as "seas", "straits", "bays", "channels", and "gulfs". There are many sub-divisions of the Southern Ocean defined in the never-approved 2002 draft fourth edition of the IHO publication Limits of Oceans and Seas. In clockwise order these include (with sector):
A number of these such as the 2002 Russian-proposed "Cosmonauts Sea", "Cooperation Sea", and "Somov (mid-1950s Russian polar explorer) Sea" are not included in the 1953 IHO document which remains currently in force, because they received their names largely originated from 1962 onward. Leading geographic authorities and atlases do not use these latter three names, including the 2014 10th edition World Atlas from the United States'
National Geographic Society and the 2014 12th edition of the British
Times Atlas of the World, but Soviet and Russian-issued maps do.
The Southern Ocean probably contains large, and possibly giant,
gas fields on the
Placer deposits, accumulation of valuable minerals such as gold, formed by gravity separation during sedimentary processes are also expected to exist in the Southern Ocean.
Manganese nodules are expected to exist in the Southern Ocean. Manganese nodules are rock
concretions on the
sea bottom formed of concentric layers of
manganesehydroxides around a core. The core may be microscopically small and is sometimes completely transformed into manganese minerals by
crystallization. Interest in the potential exploitation of polymetallic nodules generated a great deal of activity among prospective mining consortia in the 1960s and 1970s.
icebergs that form each year around in the Southern Ocean hold enough
fresh water to meet the needs of every person on Earth for several months. For several decades there have been proposals, none yet to be feasible or successful, to tow Southern Ocean icebergs to more arid northern regions (such as Australia) where they can be harvested.
Icebergs can occur at any time of year throughout the ocean. Some may have drafts up to several hundred meters; smaller icebergs, iceberg fragments and sea-ice (generally 0.5 to 1 m thick) also pose problems for ships. The deep continental shelf has a floor of glacial deposits varying widely over short distances.
Sailors know latitudes from
70 degrees south as the "
Roaring Forties", "Furious Fifties" and "Shrieking Sixties" due to high winds and large waves that form as winds blow around the entire globe unimpeded by any land-mass. Icebergs, especially in May to October, make the area even more dangerous. The remoteness of the region makes sources of search and rescue scarce.
The Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) is the strongest current system in the world oceans, linking the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific basins.
Antarctic Circumpolar Current and Antarctic Convergence
While the Southern is the second smallest ocean it contains the unique and highly energetic
Antarctic Circumpolar Current which moves perpetually eastward – chasing and joining itself, and at 21,000 km (13,000 mi) in length – it comprises the world's longest ocean current, transporting 130 million cubic metres per second (4.6×10^9 cu ft/s) of water – 100 times the flow of all the world's rivers.
Associated with the Circumpolar Current is the
Antarctic Convergence encircling Antarctica, where cold northward-flowing Antarctic waters meet the relatively warmer waters of the
subantarctic, Antarctic waters predominantly sink beneath subantarctic waters, while associated zones of mixing and
upwelling create a zone very high in nutrients. These nurture high levels of
phytoplankton with associated copepods and
Antarctic krill, and resultant foodchains supporting fish, whales, seals, penguins, albatrosses and a wealth of other species.
The Antarctic Convergence is considered to be the best natural definition of the northern extent of the Southern Ocean.
Upwelling in the Southern Ocean
upwelling is found in the Southern Ocean. Strong westerly (eastward) winds blow around
Antarctica, driving a significant flow of water northwards. This is actually a type of coastal upwelling. Since there are no continents in a band of open latitudes between
South America and the tip of the
Antarctic Peninsula, some of this water is drawn up from great depths. In many numerical models and observational syntheses, the Southern Ocean upwelling represents the primary means by which deep dense water is brought to the surface. Shallower, wind-driven upwelling is also found off the west coasts of North and South America, northwest and southwest Africa, and southwest and
southeast Australia, all associated with oceanic subtropical high pressure circulations.
Some models of the ocean circulation suggest that broad-scale upwelling occurs in the tropics, as pressure driven flows converge water toward the low latitudes where it is diffusively warmed from above. The required diffusion coefficients, however, appear to be larger than are observed in the real ocean. Nonetheless, some diffusive upwelling does probably occur.
Sea ice has been noted to persist in the central area of the Ross Gyre. There is some evidence that
global warming has resulted in some decrease of the
salinity of the waters of the Ross Gyre since the 1950s.
Observation of the Southern Ocean is coordinated through the
Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS). This provides access to meta data for a significant proportion of the data collected in the regions over the past decades including hydrographic measurements and ocean currents. The data provision is set up to emphasize records that are related to
Essential Ocean Variables (EOVs) for the ocean region south of 40°S.
Sea temperatures vary from about −2 to 10 °C (28 to 50 °F). Cyclonic storms travel eastward around the continent and frequently become intense because of the temperature contrast between ice and
open ocean. The ocean-area from about
latitude 40 south to the Antarctic Circle has the strongest average winds found anywhere on Earth. In winter the ocean freezes outward to
65 degrees south latitude in the Pacific sector and
55 degrees south latitude in the Atlantic sector, lowering surface temperatures well below 0 degrees Celsius. At some coastal points, however, persistent intense drainage winds from the interior keep the shoreline ice-free throughout the winter.
Clouds over the Southern Ocean, with continent labels
The Southern Ocean is one of the regions in which rapid climate change is the most visibly taking place. In this region, small perturbations in temperature lead to major environmental perturbation. The effects of climate change in the Southern Ocean are expected to manifest themselves in a regional and diverse manner. This will include changes in the climate and weather patterns across different time-scales with alterations to the long interdecadal background signals such as the
El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Increasing ocean temperatures and changes in the extent and seasonality of sea ice affect the biological productivity and community of this ecosystem. The magnitude and exact manifestation of these changes could lead to different populations of the same species responding and adapting differently to climate change depending on the region of the Southern Ocean they inhabit. Recent observations and analysis indicate the uptake of heat and carbon is increasing in the
Antarctic Circumpolar Current, in particular, the
Subantarctic Front zone aided by its increasing current strength.
benthic communities of the seafloor are diverse and dense, with up to 155,000 animals found in 1 square metre (10.8 sq ft). As the seafloor environment is very similar all around the Antarctic, hundreds of species can be found all the way around the mainland, which is a uniquely wide distribution for such a large community.
Deep-sea gigantism is common among these animals.
A census of sea life carried out during the
International Polar Year and which involved some 500 researchers was released in 2010. The research is part of the global
Census of Marine Life (CoML) and has disclosed some remarkable findings. More than 235 marine organisms live in both polar regions, having bridged the gap of 12,000 km (7,500 mi). Large animals such as some cetaceans and birds make the round trip annually. More surprising are small forms of life such as mudworms,
sea cucumbers and free-swimming snails found in both polar oceans. Various factors may aid in their distribution – fairly uniform temperatures of the deep ocean at the poles and the equator which differ by no more than 5 °C (9.0 °F), and the major current systems or marine
conveyor belt which transport egg and larva stages. However, among smaller marine animals generally assumed to be the same in the Antarctica and the Arctic, more detailed studies of each population have often—but not always—revealed differences, showing that they are closely related
cryptic species rather than a single bipolar species.
penguins are all located in the
Southern Hemisphere, with the greatest concentration located on and around Antarctica. Four of the 18 penguin species live and breed on the mainland and its close offshore islands. Another four species live on the subantarctic islands.Emperor penguins have four overlapping layers of feathers, keeping them warm. They are the only Antarctic animal to breed during the winter.
There are relatively few fish species in few
families in the Southern Ocean. The most species-rich family are the
snailfish (Liparidae), followed by the
cod icefish (Nototheniidae) and
eelpout (Zoarcidae). Together the snailfish, eelpouts and
notothenioids (which includes cod icefish and several other families) account for almost 9⁄10 of the more than 320 described fish species of the Southern Ocean (tens of
undescribed species also occur in the region, especially among the snailfish). Southern Ocean snailfish are generally found in deep waters, while the icefish also occur in shallower waters.
Fish of the
Notothenioidei suborder, such as this young icefish, are mostly restricted to the Antarctic and Subantarctic.
Cod icefish (Nototheniidae), as well as several other families, are part of the
Notothenioidei suborder, collectively sometimes referred to as icefish. The suborder contains many species with
antifreeze proteins in their blood and tissue, allowing them to live in water that is around or slightly below 0 °C (32 °F). Antifreeze proteins are also known from Southern Ocean snailfish.
crocodile icefish (family Channichthyidae), also known as white-blooded fish, are only found in the Southern Ocean. They lack
hemoglobin in their blood, resulting in their blood being colourless. One Channichthyidae species, the
mackerel icefish (Champsocephalus gunnari), was once the most common fish in coastal waters less than 400 metres (1,312 ft) deep, but was
overfished in the 1970s and 1980s. Schools of icefish spend the day at the seafloor and the night higher in the
water column eating plankton and smaller fish.
There are two species from the genus Dissostichus, the
Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni) and the
Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides). These two species live on the seafloor 100–3,000 metres (328–9,843 ft) deep, and can grow to around 2 metres (7 ft) long weighing up to 100 kilograms (220 lb), living up to 45 years. The Antarctic toothfish lives close to the Antarctic mainland, whereas the Patagonian toothfish lives in the relatively warmer subantarctic waters. Toothfish are commercially fished, and overfishing has reduced toothfish populations.
Another abundant fish group is the genus Notothenia, which like the Antarctic toothfish have antifreeze in their bodies.
pinniped species inhabit Antarctica. The largest, the
elephant seal (Mirounga leonina), can reach up to 4,000 kilograms (8,818 lb), while females of the smallest, the
Antarctic fur seal (Arctophoca gazella), reach only 150 kilograms (331 lb). These two species live north of the sea ice, and breed in
harems on beaches. The other four species can live on the sea ice.
Crabeater seals (Lobodon carcinophagus) and
Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) form breeding colonies, whereas
leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx) and
Ross seals (Ommatophoca rossii) live solitary lives. Although these species hunt underwater, they breed on land or ice and spend a great deal of time there, as they have no terrestrial predators.
The four species that inhabit sea ice are thought to make up 50% of the total biomass of the world's seals. Crabeater seals have a population of around 15 million, making them one of the most numerous large animals on the planet. The
New Zealand sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri), one of the rarest and most localised pinnipeds, breeds almost exclusively on the subantarctic
Auckland Islands, although historically it had a wider range. Out of all permanent mammalian residents, the Weddell seals live the furthest south.
Five species of
krill, small free-swimming
crustaceans, have been found in the Southern Ocean. The
Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) is one of the most abundant animal species on earth, with a
biomass of around 500 million tonnes. Each individual is 6 centimetres (2.4 in) long and weighs over 1 gram (0.035 oz). The swarms that form can stretch for kilometres, with up to 30,000 individuals per 1 cubic metre (35 cu ft), turning the water red. Swarms usually remain in deep water during the day, ascending during the night to feed on
plankton. Many larger animals depend on krill for their own survival. During the winter when food is scarce, adult Antarctic krill can revert to a smaller juvenile stage, using their own body as nutrition.
Many benthic crustaceans have a non-seasonal breeding cycle, and some raise their young in a
brood pouch. Glyptonotus antarcticus is an unusually large benthic
isopod, reaching 20 centimetres (8 in) in length weighing 70 grams (2.47 oz).
Amphipods are abundant in soft sediments, eating a range of items, from
algae to other animals. The amphipods are highly diverse with more than 600 recognized species found south of the Antarctic Convergence and there are indications that many undescribed species remain. Among these are several "giants", such as the iconic
epimeriids that are up to 8 cm (3.1 in) long.
sea urchin genus Abatus burrow through the sediment eating the nutrients they find in it. Two species of
salps are common in Antarctic waters: Salpa thompsoni and Ihlea racovitzai. Salpa thompsoni is found in ice-free areas, whereas Ihlea racovitzai is found in the high-latitude areas near ice. Due to their low nutritional value, they are normally only eaten by fish, with larger animals such as birds and marine mammals only eating them when other food is scarce.
sponges are long-lived and sensitive to environmental changes due to the specificity of the
symbiotic microbial communities within them. As a result, they function as indicators of environmental health.
Many nations prohibit the exploration for and the exploitation of
mineral resources south of the fluctuating
Antarctic Convergence, which lies in the middle of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and serves as the dividing line between the very cold polar surface waters to the south and the warmer waters to the north. The
Antarctic Treaty covers the portion of the globe south of
sixty degrees south; it prohibits new claims to Antarctica.
The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources applies to the area south of 60° South latitude as well as the areas further north up to the limit of the Antarctic Convergence.
Between 1 July 1998 and 30 June 1999, fisheries landed 119,898
tonnes (118,004 long tons; 132,165 short tons), of which 85% consisted of
krill and 14% of
Patagonian toothfish. International agreements came into force in late 1999 to reduce illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, which in the 1998–99 season landed five to six times more Patagonian toothfish than the regulated fishery.
Ports and harbors
Severe cracks in an
ice pier in use for four seasons at
McMurdo Station slowed cargo operations in 1983 and proved a safety hazard.
Few ports or harbors exist on the southern (Antarctic) coast of the Southern Ocean, since ice conditions limit use of most shores to short periods in midsummer; even then some require
icebreaker escort for access. Most Antarctic ports are operated by government research stations and, except in an emergency, remain closed to commercial or private vessels; vessels in any port south of
60 degrees south are subject to inspection by Antarctic Treaty observers.
^Also a translation of its former French name (Grand Océan Austral) in reference to its position below the
Pacific, the "Grand Océan".
Dr. Hooker in his accounts of his Antarctic voyages.
Hooker, Joseph Dalton (1844), Flora Antarctica: The Botany of the Antarctic Voyage, London: Reeve. Also a translation of the ocean's
Japanese name Nankyoku Kai (南極海).
^Also a translation of the ocean's
Chinese name Nánbīng Yáng (南冰洋).
^Historic names include the "South Sea", the "Great Southern Ocean",[note 1] the "South Polar Ocean" or "South-Polar Ocean",[note 2] and the "Southern Icy Ocean".[note 3]
abcd"Geography – Southern Ocean". CIA Factbook. Retrieved 16 July 2012. ... the Southern Ocean has the unique distinction of being a large circumpolar body of water totally encircling the continent of Antarctica; this ring of water lies between 60 degrees south latitude and the coast of Antarctica and encompasses 360 degrees of longitude.
abc"Introduction – Southern Ocean". CIA Factbook. Retrieved 16 July 2012. ...As such, the Southern Ocean is now the fourth largest of the world's five oceans (after the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, and Indian Ocean, but larger than the Arctic Ocean).
^Wong, Wilson (10 June 2021).
"National Geographic adds 5th ocean to world map". ABC News. NBC Universal. Retrieved 11 June 2021. National Geographic announced Tuesday that it is officially recognizing the body of water surrounding the Antarctic as the Earth's fifth ocean: the Southern Ocean.
^"Balboa, or Pan-Pacific Day". The Mid-Pacific Magazine. Pan-Pacific Union. 20 (10): 16. He named it the Southern Ocean, but in 1520 Magellan sailed into the Southern Ocean and named it Pacific
^Tomlins, Sir Thomas Edlyne; Raithby, John (1811).
"18 George II c. 17". The statutes at large, of England and of Great-Britain: from Magna Carta to the union of the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland. Printed by G. Eyre and A. Strahan. p. 153. Retrieved 1 November 2015.
^Cook, James (1821).
"March 1775". Three Voyages of Captain James Cook Round the World. Longman. p. 244. Retrieved 1 November 2015. These voyages of the French, though undertaken by private adventurers, have contributed something towards exploring the Southern Ocean. That of Captain Surville, clears up a mistake, which I was led into, in imagining the shoals off the west end of New Caledonia was to extend to the west, but as far as New Holland.
^Long, Matthew C et al. “Strong Southern Ocean carbon uptake evident in airborne observations.” Science (New York, N.Y.) vol. 374,6572 (2021): 1275-1280.
https://doi:10[permanent dead link].1126/science.abi4355.
Retrieved 16 September 2022.
^Jung, A.; P. Johnson; J.T. Eastman; A.L. Devries (1995). "Protein content and freezing avoidance properties of the subdermal extracellular matrix and serum of the Antarctic snailfish, Paraliparis devriesi". Fish Physiol Biochem. 14 (1): 71–80.
Arndt, JE et al.: The International Bathymetric Chart of the Southern Ocean Version 1.0 – A new bathymetric compilation covering circum-Antarctic waters. Geophysical Research Letters, 40(9), 1–7, 2013.