Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New ocean sparks questions about changing maps, textbooks

By Randi Weiner

Shortly after school started this year, Thiells Elementary School teacher Amy Becker was working with her fourth-grade students on their map skills when one child asked why she wasn't mentioning the fifth ocean.

Fifth ocean? All the maps, the globe and the textbooks mention four oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Arctic.


"So we researched it," Becker said. "There really is a fifth ocean. They pulled it up on the Internet. We're not actively teaching it in our curriculum, so it was really cool for the children to learn about this."

In the spring of 2000, the International Hydrographic Organization, based in Monaco, designated all the water below 60 degrees south latitude the Southern Ocean. The ocean surrounds Antarctica wholly, and used to be shown as the place where the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans met at the bottom of the world.

Since then, cartographers and others, including the National Geographic Society and the U.S. Geological Survey, have debated whether the Southern Ocean should, in fact, become part of the lexicon.

Some European countries don't recognize it, and the most recent query to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names doesn't specify whether the new ocean has been accepted. The board's approval is necessary before the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration places the name on its charts. So far, the name isn't there.

And they're not the only ones unsure.

"We went back and forth on it," said Terry Donovan, a cartographer with Replogle Globes, which about two years ago began adding the Southern Ocean - in parentheses to designate its optional status - to the more detailed globes it manufactures.

"It's gaining more acceptance," he said.

In the classroom, the Southern (sometimes Antarctic) Ocean is a hit-or-miss proposition. Steven Forman, an assistant principal at Ramapo High School and a former social studies teacher, said the textbooks don't mention it but a map he looked at did.

"It's discussed in our environmental science classes, where they talk about the ecosystem that's down there," he said.

Forman said he thought the IHO decided to rename the water around the Antarctic continent as a way to better describe the area when discussing international fishing and hunting treaties. Scientists have been spending more time studying the bottom of the world because of global warming worries, he said. They found the currents, fish and plant life there seem to be part of a separate ecosystem from that of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans, which would argue for a separate ocean designation.

Ed Martin, chief of the customer affairs branch of the National Services Division of the Office of Coast Survey, a division of the NOAA, said information about the Southern Ocean appears to be available online for those who know to look for it, but it's been slow to trickle onto the printed page.

"People think nowadays that putting something up on the Internet means it gets to everybody, but that's not true," he said. "How do you get it to the books and students? That's a good question."

Becker said her class researched everything they could find on the Southern Ocean and ended up linking map reading, Internet research, discussion and writing to explain what it was.

"When I go to my social studies curriculum meeting, I'll bring all my research with me and we can start including it in our curriculum," she said. "Everything has to be updated."

Reach Randi Weiner at or 845-578-2468.

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