The smallest ocean and the shallowest ocean that our Earth has to offer us is the Arctic Ocean. It is recognized as an ocean by International Hydrographic Organization. However, this is not unanimous. There are many oceanographers who prefer calling it Arctic Mediterranean Sea or simply the Arctic Sea. The reason for this is simple. The ocean in question is actually very small and some oceanographers actually look at it as the Mediterranean Sea or simply as Atlantic Ocean’s estuary. In this article on Arctic Ocean facts, let us take a quick look into the history, geography, climate and other aspects of the ocean. In the process, we will try to learn several interesting aspects of this small ocean.
Arctic Ocean Facts: 1-5 | History of Arctic Ocean
1. Exploration of the Arctic Ocean took place at a slow pace compared to the other oceans. First record of such exploration dates back to 325 BCE. A person called Pytheas from a place called Massilia was the first to document this ocean.
2. In his documentation, he referred to a land as “Eschate Thule”. He mentioned that there, Sun sets only for 3 hours a day. He even talked of some substance replacing water and on that substance neither can a man walk nor sail.
3. It is believed that the “substance” that Pytheas talked about was an iceberg and the land he referred to may have been either Norway or Faroe Islands or Shetland.
4. At first there was a confusion regarding the area around North Pole. Cartographers were perplexed to draw the area near the North Pole as land or water. By 1723, maps started featuring “Oceanus Septentrionalis” around the North Pole.
5. In the 19th century, the exploration picked up a lot of pace. 1850’s and 1860’s saw American navigators like Elisha Kane, Isaac Israel Hayes etc. exploring the Arctic Ocean.
Arctic Ocean Facts: 6-10 | History of Arctic Ocean
6. The presence of thick polar ice cap around North Pole was reported by all the explorers. They even reported that the ice cap persists the whole year.
7. The first nautical crossing of the Arctic Ocean was made in the year 1896 by Fridtjof Nansen. Wally Herbert became the first person to make a surface crossing of the ocean. This happened in the year 1969.
8. North Pole’s first nautical transit was done by the submarine USS Nautilus in the year 1958 whereas the first surface nautical transit was done by the NS Arktika, an icebreaker (a ship designed specially to sail in the waters covered by ice).
9. From 1937, Soviet Union took major control over the Arctic Ocean.
10. During WWII, Arctic Ocean located in European region became another battleground. Allies used to resupply the army of Soviet Union which was strongly opposed by the German air and naval forces.
Arctic Ocean Facts: 11-15 | Geography of Arctic Ocean
11. Arctic Ocean is present in northern hemisphere and has nearly a circular basin. The ocean covers an area of 14,056,000 square kilometers or 5,427,000 square miles. The Arctic Ocean is roughly the size of the continent Antarctica. The average depth of this ocean is 1,038 meters or 3,406 feet.
12. Eurasia, North America, several small islands and Greenland border the Arctic Ocean. Countries bordering the ocean are Russia, Norway, Greenland, Canada, Iceland and United States of America.
13. Arctic Ocean includes East Siberian Sea, Baffin Bay, Beaufort Sea, Greenland Sea, Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait, Laptev Sea, Kara Sea, Barents Sea, Chukchi Sea and White Sea.
14. It is connected to Atlantic Ocean through Labrador Sea and Greenland Sea whereas it is connected to the Pacific Ocean by the Bering Strait.
15. There are several major ports around this ocean. Some of the ports are Barrow and Prudhoe (USA); Churchill, Nunavut, Inuvik etc. (Canada); Nuuk (Greenland); Vardø, Kirkenes etc. (Norway); Tiksi, Pevek etc. (Russia).
Arctic Ocean Facts: 16-20 | Geography of Arctic Ocean
16. Arctic shelf consists of continental shelves like Canadian Arctic shelf which is present under the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and Russian Arctic shelf.
17. Russian Arctic shelf is sometimes called as Arctic shelf because of its greater extent. This shelf is divided into three smaller shelves – Barents Shelf, Chukchi Sea Shelf and Siberian Shelf.
18. Siberian Shelf is largest continental shelf in the world. It contains huge amounts of oil and gas reserves. Chukchi Sea Shelf divides Russia and America.
19. Lomonosov Ridge, an underwater ridge divides the Arctic Basin or the North Polar Basin into two basins – Eurasian Basin which is 4,000 to 4,500 meters or 13,000 to 14,000 feet deep and Amerasian Basin (also called as North American or Hyperborean Basin) which is 4,000 meters or 13,000 feet deep. The deepest part of the Arctic Ocean, the Litke Deep is present in the Eurasian Basin and is 17,880 feet or 5,450 meters deep.
20. These two major basins are yet again divided into 4 basins which are Canada Basin (between Alaska or Canada and Alpha Ridge), Nansen Basin (between the continental shelf which contains Franz Joseph Land and Gakkel Ridge), Makarov Basin (between Lomonosov and Alpha Ridges) and Amundsen Basin (between Gakkel and Lomonosov Ridges).
Arctic Ocean Facts: 21-25 | Oceanography of Arctic Ocean
21. In major parts of the ocean, the upper layer (nearly 50 meters or 160 feet) has less salinity and less temperature than the lower layers. The upper layer is stable because salinity’s effect is more on density when compared to the effect of temperature.
22. Arctic Ocean’s volume share is mere 1.3% of the world’s ocean with a volume of 18.07×106 km3. Mean surface circulation is mostly anticyclonic on the Canadian Basin whereas cyclonic on the Eurasian Basin.
23. Most of the ocean is covered by ice. The extent and thickness of the ice varies seasonally. The average extent of the ice is decreasing at a rate of 3% every decade from 1980. The variations in season are maximum in April and minimum in September.
24. Icebergs break off from Ellesmere Island or are formed from the glaciers. They are extremely dangerous to the ships. One such misfortunate ship was the Titanic.
25. Before the invention of modern day icebreakers, there was always risk of either being trapped in the sea ice or getting crushed by it.
Arctic Ocean Facts: 26-30 | Climate of Arctic Ocean
26. Arctic Ocean remains in a polar climate (regions where every month has an average temperature of less than 10 °C (50 °F) because of the influence of Quaternary glaciation.
27. Polar nights (when the night lasts for more than 24 hours), stable weather conditions, extreme cold etc. are characteristics of winter season. Cyclones during this season occur mostly on the Atlantic side only.
28. Polar days (when the days lasts for more than 24 hours, also called as midnight sun), temperature soaring above the melting point are characteristics of summer season. Cyclones are frequent in summers. Cloud cover is usually at around 60% in winters and 80% in summers.
29. Temperature is mostly stable, near to freezing point of seawater. As Arctic Ocean consists of saltwater the temperature must reach −1.8 °C (28.8 °F) to start freezing.
30. Though the Arctic Ocean is cold, the climate is gradually changing. Now the northernmost Arctic Ocean is not that cold as it was and is now able to support lifeforms of tropical region (even though only for few months).
Arctic Ocean Facts: 31-35 | Environment and Lifeforms of Arctic Ocean
31. The species which are endangered in Arctic Ocean are whales and walruses. The ecosystem is fragile, it changes very slowly and also mends itself very slowly from any changes in the ecosystem.
32. Lion’s mane jellyfish, which grow nearly 2.4 meters long, are found in huge numbers in Arctic Ocean. Arctic Ocean is the home of Polar bears.
33. Phytoplankton is the abundant plant life seen in Arctic Ocean. It thrives on nutrients of rivers and Pacific and Atlantic Oceans’ currents.
34. In summers their population bloom as they grow rapidly by creating a lot of food through the process of photosynthesis whereas in winters they struggle for survival because of presence of less light.
35. Petroleum, sand aggregates, whales, fish, seals, natural gas etc. are plenty in Arctic Ocean. Because of the presence of natural gas and petroleum, this area has become a bone of contention among USA, Canada, Russia, Denmark and Norway. It is believed that 25% of undiscovered petroleum lies in the Arctic Ocean.
Arctic Ocean Facts: 36-40 | Environment and Lifeforms of Arctic Ocean
36. The polar ice cap is decreasing in its thickness and it may lead to further global warming. If a research is to be believed, then the Arctic Ocean will be ice free by 2040 or within few years. It will cause immense damage to the flora and fauna present in the Arctic Ocean. They very well may face extinction, if the ice cap dissolves completely.
37. Clathrate (a chemical substance which can trap molecules) breakdown is another major concern. Sea ice helps in stabilizing methane deposits near the shore, in turn stabilizing the clathrate. When the ice melts, clathrate breaks down and methane (one of the main green house gas) is released into the atmosphere.
38. Another major concern is the radioactive contamination in the ocean. Russia dumped a lot of radioactive waste in Kara Sea. Another such example are nuclear test sites of cold war like Novaya Zemlya.
39. On July 16, 2015 five countries – USA, Russia, Denmark/Greenland, Norway and Canada signed a declaration. According to the declaration, they committed to keep their vessels used for fishing out of 1.1 million sq. mile zone near the North Pole.
40. As per the agreement, the five countries should abstain themselves from fishing in that zone till better scientific data regarding the marine lifeforms are available and a regulatory body is formed to protect those resources or lifeforms.
Random Arctic Ocean Facts: 41-45
41. Did you know that the Arctic Ocean is the smallest ocean of all the five oceans? It covers just 3 – 4% of the earth’s surface.
42. It has the lowest salinity among all the oceans because of huge inflow of freshwater, low evaporation and minimum communication with other oceans.
43. Though it is the smallest ocean, fish species diversity is highest among all the other oceans.
44. There are total of six species of seals present in the Arctic Ocean. The six species are bearded seal, ribbon seal, ringed seal, spotted seal, hooded seal and harp seal.
45. There are 4 whale species found in the ocean which are – narwhal, grey whale, bowhead whale and beluga whale.
Random Arctic Ocean Facts: 45-50
46. There is something called as pack ice. It is located around the polar ice cap and freezes completely only in winter.
47. Polar ice doesn’t melt completely. In summers, its thickness is reduced to mere 2 meters whereas in winters, its thickness is around 50 meters.
48. Then there is fast ice. Fast ice is the ice which forms around the pack ice but is attached to the land.
49. The name Arctic is derived from the Greek word “Arktos” which means bear. This name was given because Ursa Major Constellation or the Great Bear is present just above the North Pole.
50. It is not only the smallest ocean but also the shallowest ocean of all the five oceans.
Random Arctic Ocean Facts: 51-55
51. The coastline is 45,390 kilometers or 28,200 miles long.
52. In 1958, USCG icebreaker East Wind reported the largest known iceberg in the North Atlantic. Its height was 168 meters or 551 feet.
53. Did you know that the ocean floor of the Arctic Ocean has three underwater ridges? They are
- Nansen-Gakkel Ridge extending to the north of western Russia.
- Alfa Mountain Ridge, a plane range with peaks reaching a height of 3,000 meters.
- Lomonosov Ridge, a mountain range with peaks reaching a height of 3,000 to 3,700 meters.
54. The ocean is divided into three large water bodies on the basis of depth which are
- Arctic Surface Water – 150-200 meters deep. There is a superficial layer of freshwater above this Arctic Surface Water. It is characterized by swift currents.
- Atlantic Water – 150-900 meters deep, same salinity as the lower layer or Arctic Deep Water but is warmer.
- Arctic Deep Water – deepest part. It is characterized by cold water.
The upper two layers are warmer than the deepest part because of the continuous inflow of the water of Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
55. It is 5 times bigger than Mediterranean Sea. Some of the oceanographers classify the Arctic Ocean as Mediterranean Sea or the estuary of the Atlantic Ocean.
Random Arctic Ocean Facts: 56-60
56. As the ocean is mostly covered in ice, it is often referred to as Frozen Ocean.
57. Did you know that ships cannot be moved from October to June? The credit goes to thick ice which makes completely impossible for the ships to move.
58. Its size is roughly the size of Russia, still called as smallest ocean!
59. During summers, the Arctic Ocean shrinks by 50%.
60. There are many indigenous groups living near the Arctic Ocean. Some of them are Inuit, Yupik, Saami, Nenets etc. (present in Russia). They carry their age-old traditions like fishing, hunting etc.