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The Arctic Ocean, located in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Arctic north polar region, is the smallest and shallowest of the world’s five major oceanic divisions. The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) recognizes it as an ocean, although some oceanographers call it the Arctic Mediterranean Seaor simply the Arctic Sea, classifying it a mediterranean sea or an estuary of the Atlantic Ocean.
- Almost completely surrounded by Eurasia and North America, the Arctic Ocean is partly covered by sea ice throughout the year.
- The Arctic Ocean’s temperature and salinity vary seasonally as the ice cover melts and freezes; its salinity is the lowest on average of the five major oceans, due to low evaporation, heavy freshwater inflow from rivers and streams, and limited connection and outflow to surrounding oceanic waters with higher salinities.
- The US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) uses satellite data to provide a daily record of Arctic sea ice cover and the rate of melting compared to an average period and specific past years.
- Early cartographers were unsure whether to draw the region around the North Pole as land or water.
- The few expeditions to penetrate much beyond the Arctic Circle in this era added only small islands, such as Novaya Zemlya (11th century) and Spitsbergen (1596), though since these were often surrounded by pack-ice their northern limits were not so clear.
- The Arctic Ocean occupies a roughly circular basin and covers an area of about 5,427,000 sq mi, almost the size of Russia.
- It is surrounded by the land masses of Eurasia, North America, Greenland, and by several islands.
- It is generally taken to include Baffin Bay, Barents Sea, Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, East Siberian Sea, Greenland Sea, Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea, White Sea and other tributary bodies of water.
- An underwater ridge, the Lomonosov Ridge, divides the deep sea North Polar Basin into two oceanic basins: the Eurasian Basin, which is between 13,000 and 14,800 ft deep, and the Amerasian Basin, which is about 13,000 ft deep.
- The deepest point is in the Eurasian Basin, at 17,880 ft.
- The Arctic Ocean contains a major choke point in the southern Chukchi Sea, which provides access to the Pacific Ocean through the Bering Strait between Alaska and Eastern Siberia.
- Subject to ice conditions, the Arctic Ocean provides the shortest marine link between the extremes of eastern and western Russia.
- Any convection eddies caused by the temperature difference between the cold ocean surface and the warmer depth stop at this thermocline, leaving only heat conduction as upward heat transport mechanism, which is orders of magnitude smaller.
- The Arctic Ocean is encompassed by a number of continental shelves, including that of Canada and the Continental shelf of Russia, which consists of three separate, smaller shelves, the Barents, Chukchi and Siberian.
- Because the Arctic Ocean consists of saltwater the temperature must reach −1.8°C before freezing occurs.
- This is one reason why the Arctic does not experience the extreme temperatures seen on the Antarctic continent.
- There is considerable seasonal variation in how much pack ice of the Arctic ice pack covers the Arctic Ocean.
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