The Arctic Ocean, which is also known as the Northern Ocean, is the shallowest in depth, and smallest in area, of all of the oceans of the world. Indeed, some some consider it as but an estuary of the Atlantic Ocean, rather than as an ocean in its own right. Sailing in the region often means navigating through sea ice, even in the summer, while winter sees a freezing of almost all of its waters. The Arctic has the lowest salinity of all the oceans in the world, as the inherently low evaporation rate and freshwater coming from the streams and rivers that feed it dilute its waters' salt concentrations. A Polar climate dominates the Arctic region. Therein, winters exhibit relatively stable weather, though are known for extremely cold temperature inversions. Its most know characteristic are the "24 hour nights" of the polar winters, and the opposing "midnight sun" seen in the summers.
In the early 1800s, the Arctic region had not been largely explored, though many postulated that a Polar Sea likely existed, much similar to the Southern Ocean in the Antarctic region. The British encouraged the exploration of the region from 1818 to 1845, and such trailblazing explorers as Kane, Hayes, and Maury described the Arctic Region as being covered in an all-year-round ice cap. In 1896, Nansen made the first nautical (sea or maritime) Trans-Arctic crossing of the North Pole, and in 1969, Herbert made the first surface (land) crossing of the same. The year 1937 saw the Russians put up ice stations on drift ice to study and monitor the Arctic Ocean. Then, during World War II and the negotiations in its aftermath, the Arctic Ocean's European region became a contested zone desired by several major countries.
It is believed that the Arctic Ocean and Arctic Region may hold around 25% of the total natural gas and oil reserves on our planet. Geologist have figured out that it also has substantial placer gold deposits, poly-metallic nodules, and sand and gravel aggregates. The abundance of several species of whales, fish, and seals also make the region attractive for the fishing industry. In addition, despite of the fact that World War II has been over for more than half a century, several countries, most notably the United States, Denmark, Norway, Canada, and Russia, still continue to have disputes over who owns the center and other portions of the Arctic Ocean.
The Arctic Ocean has several animal habitats, and these serve as the homes and sanctuaries for an assortment of endangered mammals and fish. Walruses and whales are among those threatened. The region's vulnerable ecosystem in general is one factor that makes the animal species in the region so sensitive to climatic changes as well. Some of these species are endemic and irreplaceable, with the Lion's Mane Jellyfish and Banded Gunnel being examples of these sensitive species, although their numbers ares still thought to be abundant in the area at the present time. The summer months bring an abundance of phytoplankton that depend on sunlight to reproduce. These plant organisms support copepods and zooplankton, which in turn serve as the foundations upon which to support every other level of the food chain hierarchy, ultimately topped by large land and sea mammals, in the region.
Threats and Disputes
The Arctic waters and the ice and land regions around it face several environmental threats today. These include ozone depletion, garbage pollution (including oil spills), and climate change, among many others. These threats are likely to cause a domino effect that could desalinate the north Atlantic, which will be worsened with the melting of polar freshwater ice and ruin ocean currents. It could result in weather changes across the entire planet as well. Inland river systems could also be affected, and melting Arctic ice threatens to flood low-lying cities and countries everywhere. Some countries have radioactive dump sites that could contaminate the Arctic Ocean, and the region also has been selected by Shell Petroleum and other development projects for exploratory drilling. The native communities in the area are also concerned about this drilling, as an oil spill can endanger people and marine life with deadly effects.