Southern Ocean Facts & FAQ

by Bob

in Ocean, Southern Ocean

Of the five oceans that make up the  global ocean, the southernmost one is aptly named the Southern Ocean. It encompasses Antarctica, is home to the blue whale, and is the 2nd smallest ocean; 50% larger than the Arctic Ocean. Having been only officially recognized in 2000, there is still some controversy as to whether it should be considered a separate ocean or merely an extension of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Southern Ocean aka Austral Ocean

Southern Ocean also known as the Austral Ocean

Here are some neat Southern Ocean facts and FAQ:

What are other names for the Southern Ocean?
Antarctic Ocean, Great Southern Ocean, South Polar Ocean, Austral Ocean.

How old is the Southern Ocean?
It is the youngest of the 5 oceans at only 30 million years of age.

How was the Southern Ocean formed?
It was formed when the continents of South America and Antarctica completely split apart (30 million years ago).

How does the Southern Ocean differ from the other 4 oceans?
The Antarctic Circumpolar Current flows clockwise around Antarctica. It is the primary feature that uniquely identifies the Southern Ocean. Normally, oceans are separated by landmasses, but not the Southern Ocean. This current keeps the warmer waters of the Pacific and Atlantic from mixing with the colder waters of the Southern Ocean, allowing for huge ice packs to form in the winter.

What year did the Southern Ocean become a ‘named’ ocean?
In 2000, the International Hydrographic Organization established the boundaries of the Southern Ocean- All water off the coast of Antarctica up to the southern portions of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Ocean along the line of latitude at 60 degrees South.

Are there any oil and/or natural gas reserves in the Southern Ocean?
Possibly, but no exploration has been undertaken due to The Antarctic Treaty 1 which bans any resource extraction until 2048 and likely longer.

How windy is the Southern Ocean?
Very windy. In fact, it has the strongest average winds of any ocean.

Does the Southern Ocean have icebergs?
Yes. During the the winter, 50% of the  Southern Ocean is covered with icebergs and ice sheets.

What months are the winter and summer seasons of the Southern Ocean?

  • Summer- October to February
  • Winter- March to September

How cloudy is the Southern Ocean?
Satellite imagery indicates a cloud coverage of nearly 90% all year around, so it is overcast practically all of the time.

Southern Ocean Cloud Coverage

Southern Ocean cloud coverage. credit NASA

What is the average depth of the Southern Ocean?
12,000-14,000 feet.
What is the deepest part of the Southern Ocean?
The southern end of the South Sandwich Trench lies in the Southern Ocean and has a depth of 23,737 feet.

South Sandwich Trench

South Sandwich Trench

Are there any native human populations, like eskimos, in the area of the Southern Ocean?

Are clouds brighter in the Southern Ocean?
Yes. The Southern Ocean has large plankton blooms, which release gases that allows water droplets to spread out more thus creating more reflective clouds. 2

Southern Ocean Clouds Brighter Illustration

Brighter clouds caused by water droplets attaching themselves to the smaller aerosols caused by plankton and decaying surface matter. Daniel McCoy / University of Washington

What animals live in the Southern Ocean?
Antarctic krill, blue whales, elephant seals, emperor penguins and giant squid.

Does the Southern Ocean absorb CO2 gas?
Yes. A study published Sep. 2015 indicates that the rate of carbon absorption in the Southern Ocean had doubled to 1.2 billion tons in 10 years from 2001-2011. The Southern Ocean accounts for 40% of all ocean carbon absorption which in turn account for 25% of total carbon absorption.

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