Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Arctic Ocean from Philip's Encyclopedia

Ocean N of the Arctic Circle, between North America and Eurasia. Almost totally landlocked and the Earth's smallest ocean, it is bordered by Greenland, Canada, Alaska, Russia, and Norway. Connected to the Pacific Ocean by the Bering Strait, and to the Atlantic Ocean by the Davis Strait and Greenland Sea, it includes the Barents, Beaufort, Chukchi, Greenland, and Norwegian seas. There is animal life (plankton) in all Arctic water. Polar bears, seals, and gulls live up to c.88° N. Area: 14 million sq km (5.4 million sq mi).

Summary Article: Arctic Ocean from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide
Image from: The Arctic region as defined by (a) the... in The Encyclopedia of Ecology and Environmental Management, Blackwell Science

Ocean surrounding the North Pole; area 14,000,000 sq km/5,405,400 sq mi. Because of the Siberian and North American rivers flowing into it, it has comparatively low salinity and freezes readily.

The ocean comprises:

Beaufort Sea off Canada/Alaska coast, named after British admiral Francis Beaufort; oil drilling allowed only in winter because the sea is the breeding and migration route of the bowhead whales, staple diet of the local Inuit people;

Greenland Sea between Greenland and Svalbard;

Norwegian Sea between Greenland and Norway, which belongs physiographically to the same basin as the Atlantic Ocean;

From west to east along the north coast of Russia:

Barents Sea named after Willem Barents, which has oil and gas reserves and was strategically significant as the meeting point of the NATO and Warsaw Pact forces. The White Sea (Beloye More) is its southernmost gulf;

Kara Sea (Kavaskoye More) renowned for bad weather and called the ‘great ice cellar’;

Laptev Sea between Taimyr Peninsula and New Siberian Island;

East Siberian Sea and Chukchi Sea (Cukotskoje More) between Russia and the USA; the semi-nomadic Chukchi people of Northeast Siberia finally accepted Soviet rule in the 1930s.

The Arctic Ocean has the world's greatest concentration of nuclear submarines, but at the same time there is much scientific cooperation on exploration, especially since Russia needs Western aid to develop oil and gas in its areas.

The Arctic Ocean is linked to the Atlantic Ocean by the Norwegian Sea; the Denmark Strait, between Greenland and Iceland; and the Davis Strait, between Greenland and Canada. The only link it has with the Pacific Ocean is the Bering Strait. The main rivers that flow into the Arctic Ocean are the Onega, the Dvina, and the Pechora in Europe; the Lena, the Yenisey, and the Ob in Asia; and the Mackenzie in North America. The submarine mid-Atlantic Ridge, which is volcanically active, passes through Iceland and the island of Jan Mayen, with associated faults and ridges extending towards Greenland (now known as Kalaallit Nunaat) and Norway.

Arctic ice The region immediately at and around the North Pole is covered with rough sea ice, and the depth of the water at the North Pole itself is more than 3,658 m/2,000 fathoms. In fact, the whole ocean is covered with sea ice, which varies in depth from 1.5 m/5 ft to 9 m/30 ft, with an average of about 3 m/33 ft. It is frozen in winter but in the summer it is broken up into floes of varying size. Pack ice is a mixture of ice floes in water. A lead is a navigable passage through pack ice; when these leads close up again the floes are piled up on one another, and hummocky ice results. If hummocky ice is piled up against a shallow shore for a great length of time, it takes on the appearance of what George Strong Nares called the palaeocrystic sea; an ice block phenomenon that resembles an enormous car park full of ice cars.

A permanent layer of fresh water is found in many places outside the edge of the ice pack. This layer, which has a depth of 2 m/7 ft in some places, is formed partly by the melted ice and partly from the outflow of the rivers of Siberia. The sea ice as a whole has been found to drift from the middle of the north coast of Siberia northwestwards towards the northeast extremity of Greenland. Large quantities of ice also pass down between Spitsbergen and Greenland each year. The warm surface waters of the Atlantic flow up into the Arctic regions, passing between Greenland and Norway, where they are chilled by contact with the icy Arctic waters, and gradually sink to the bottom. Finally they return, along the east side of Greenland and down Davis Strait, as a cold current carrying with it the icebergs that are a danger to navigation in the Atlantic

Depth the Arctic Ocean is bordered by a fairly broad continental shelf; this means that the ocean as a whole is shallow. Along the north of Europe and Siberia, to 135°east longitude, the water is very shallow, and proceeding westward from this point the depth does not exceed 146 m/80 fathoms. Between Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya the depth of the water varies from 183–274 m/100–150 fathoms, and between Norway and Bjornoya it is 439 m/240 fathoms. In the Kara Sea a depth of over 732 m/400 fathoms is found. The depth of the ocean north of the Beaufort Sea suddenly increases to 3,658 m/2,000 fathoms

Temperature the temperature of the Arctic Ocean varies at different depths. The surface temperature in the polar regions is usually about the freezing-point of salt water, −1.6°C/29.1°F. It increases at about 201 m/110 fathoms to 0.6°C/33.1°F, and between 219–640 m/120–350 fathoms the temperature is higher than at any other depth, ranging between 1.7°C/35.1°F and 4.3°C/39.7°F. This warm layer is probably caused by the Gulf Stream. Directly underneath this, down to nearly 1,829 m/1,000 fathoms there is a decrease to about −0.1°C/31.8°F. Lastly, from 1,829 m/1,000 fathoms to the bottom the water is slightly warmer, and the temperature is fairly uniform, between 0.6°C/33.1°F and 0.8°C/33.4°F

Climate a relatively mild climate is found a long way inside the Arctic Circle because of the influence of the Gulf Stream off the coast of Norway. Conversely, Arctic conditions are created far into the Atlantic by the Arctic currents, which flow through Davis Strait and along the east coast of Greenland.

Near the Pole itself there are usually light winds in the winter, and the air is clear; in lower latitudes – around Franz Josef Land and Greenland, for instance – although the temperature is higher, strong winds prevail. These are generally southwesterly along the coast of Norway and as far as Franz Josef Land, but west of this region northeasterly winds are typical. During the summer, fogs and mists are very frequent, and form one of the greatest dangers.


Arctic Ocean

© RM, 2016. All rights reserved.

Related Credo Articles

Full text Article
Arctic Ocean
Encyclopedia of Global Environmental Change: The Earth System - Physical and Chemical Dimensions of Global Environmental Change

The Arctic Ocean is the smallest of the Earth's four major oceans (the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, and Arctic), covering 14 × 106 km2 located...

Full text Article
Guide to the Oceans

The Arctic Ocean is the smallest ocean in the world. It is surrounded by Eurasia, Greenland and North America, and is, on average, approximately...

Full text Article
Encyclopedia of the Arctic

The Arctic Ocean is unique among oceans in its isolation. All other oceans form part of a single great system centered on the Southern Ocean,...

See more from Credo