10 Important Facts About the Arctic Ocean

The Arctic Ocean near Svalbard, Norway.

The Arctic Ocean is the smallest and shallowest ocean of the five principal oceans on earth. This article takes a closer look at this body of water and 10 of the most interesting facts surrounding its location and geography.

What Does The Name Mean?

The Arctic Ocean gets its name from the Greek word “arktikos”, which means bear. This name, in turn, is taken from the northern constellation, Ursa Major, which means Great Bear. This constellation can be seen consistently across the sky in the northern hemisphere and is one of the most widely recognized constellations.

Where Is The Arctic Ocean?

The Arctic Ocean is located completely within the Arctic circle and is bordered by the US state of Alaska, Canada, Russia, Iceland, Norway, and Greenland. It is nearly encompassed entirely by land. The Arctic Ocean lies just north of the line of 60 degrees north latitude and is home to the North Pole.

This ocean covers a total area of 5.427 million square miles, which makes it nearly equivalent to the size of the land area of Russia. Despite this size, however, the Arctic Ocean covers less than 3% of the earth’s surface.

Submarine Ridges In The Arctic Ocean

The floor of the Arctic Ocean is divided into 2 basins and 4 sub-basins by 3 submarine ridges: the Alpha, the Gakkel, and the Lomonosov. The Lomonosov ridge divides the Arctic Ocean floor into the Eurasian and Amerasian Basins, which are between 13,000 and 14,800 feet deep. These points are much deeper than the majority of the ocean, which has an average depth of only 3,406 feet. The Alpha ridge creates a basin that extends from its border to the coastal areas of Alaska and Canada. This basin is known as the Canada Basin. It also creates the Makarov Basin with the Lomonosov ridge. The Gakkel ridge forms the Nansen Basin between its border and the continental shelf. Additionally, it forms the Amundsen Basin with the Lomonosov ridge.

The Islands In The Arctic Ocean

The Arctic Ocean is home to a number of islands, including the New Siberian Islands, the Novaya Zemlya, the Wrangel Island, and the Arctic Archipelago.

The New Siberian Islands are an archipelago chain that covers nearly 11,000 square miles. These islands are home to a meteorological station and a Russian Navy base.

The Novaya Zemlya covers around 35,000 square miles and is also considered an archipelago. They are home to a small human population, which survives by hunting, fishing, and trapping.

The Wrangel Island covers 1,740 square miles and is home to a small permanent population as well as an arctic research station.

Finally, the Arctic Archipelago is made up of over 50 small islands, including: Prince of Wales, Baffin, Victoria, Somerset, Ellesmere, and Banks (to name a few).

How Cold Is The Arctic Ocean?

The temperature of the Arctic Ocean remains around 28° fahrenheit all year round, regardless of the season. This consistency has been changing over recent years, however, as global climate change is becoming more evident. This phenomenon is contributing to warmer waters in the Arctic Ocean. These increased water temperatures, in turn, cause more ice to melt during the summer and less to freeze during the winter. The winter season is longer than found in other areas of the world, which affects the climate above the ocean.

Ice In The Arctic Ocean

The Arctic Ocean is either partially or almost completely covered by ice depending on the season. Between October and June, the ice cover over the Arctic Ocean is so dense that ships cannot pass. This ice occurs in 3 forms: polar, pack, and fast.

Polar ice is found in the Arctic Ocean year round. It never completely melts and during the summer, measures around 6.56 feet in thickness. During the winter, however, polar ice is much thicker, measuring around 164 feet.

Pack ice is located around the edges of polar ice. It is only completely frozen during the winter season. Additionally, this ice is not fixed to any land mass, but rather floats along in several separate pieces. These pieces are pushed together by winds until they form an almost solid piece.

Fast ice forms around the pack ice and the edges of land masses. In fact, its name comes from the fact that it is fastened to coastlines. Fast ice, unlike pack ice, does not move around.

The Icebergs Of The Arctic

A number of icebergs can be found in the Arctic Ocean, having broken free from nearby glacier masses. The majority of these come from northeastern Canada, western Greenland, and the Ellesmere Islands. The presence of icebergs can be dangerous for ships passing through and have been known to cause shipwrecks. One of the most well-known iceberg-caused shipwrecks was the Titanic.

How Saline Is The Arctic Ocean?

The Arctic Ocean is fed by a number of freshwater rivers, other bodies of water, and melting ice. This freshwater mixes with the saline water of the ocean, decreasing its level of salinity. In most oceans, the salinity is balanced by evaporation and open connections to other bodies of saltwater. The same is not true, however, for the Arctic Ocean. In fact, the Arctic Ocean is only connected to other oceans via the Bering Strait (to the Pacific Ocean) and the Greenland and Labrador Seas (to the Atlantic Ocean). Additionally, the rate of evaporation here is very slow. All of these factors contribute to giving the Arctic Ocean the lowest level of salinity of any ocean in the world.

Wildlife Of The Arctic Ocean

Despite the difficult climatic conditions present around the Arctic Ocean, it is home to a wide range of wildlife. Some of the most common animals found living at the Arctic Ocean include: walruses, polar bears, arctic foxes, seals, brown bears, Beluga whales, arctic wolves, Bowhead whales, and Narwhals. Polar bears, for example, depend on the thick ice covering the Arctic Ocean in order to reach its primary prey, the seal. As this ice has become thinner in recent years, the polar bear has been faced with increased difficulty in obtaining its principal food source.

Continental Shelves

The Arctic Ocean is home to the longest continental shelf in the world. It stretches around 750 miles toward Siberia and has contributed to the creation of the previously mentioned islands. This shelf is believed to house large oil and natural gas deposits, which has prompted an international dispute over territorial ownership of the area.


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