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The seas that surround the Arctic Ocean
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The surface waters of the Arctic Ocean mingle with those of the Pacific Ocean through the Bering Strait, by way of a narrow and shallow channel, which has a depth of 55 m (180 ft). More importantly, the Arctic waters mix with those of the Atlantic Ocean across a system of submarine sills (shallow ridges) that span the great distances from Scotland to Greenland and from Greenland to Baffin Island at depths of 500 to 700 m (1,600 to 2,300 ft). Emptying into the Arctic Ocean are the Ob’, Yenisey, and Lena rivers in Asia and the Mackenzie River in North America. The total surface area of the Arctic Ocean is 14.1 million sq km (5.4 million sq mi). The major subdivisions of the Arctic Ocean include the Norwegian, Barents, Kara, Laptev, and Beaufort seas.

Barents Sea (Russian Barentsovo More), arm of the Arctic Ocean, named for its discoverer, the Dutch navigator Willem Barents. The sea is bounded on the west by the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard and on the east by the two islands of Novaya Zemlya, which belong to Russia. The sea extends north from Norway, Finland, and Russia for 1,500 km (900 mi), and is bounded on the north by Franz Josef Land (Zemlya Frantsa Iosifa). The sea is shallow, and the southern part is free of ice all year. Trawlers from northern European ports fish its waters for cod and haddock. During World War II (1939-45) the Barents Sea served as an important traffic route; it provided the only direct surface approach to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). At present it forms the westernmost part of the 8,000-km (5,000-mi) seaway leading from Murmansk in Europe to Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean.

Kara Sea, southern arm of the Arctic Ocean, along the northern coast of Russia, situated between the islands of Novaya Zemlya, Severnaya Zemlya, and the northwestern coast of Siberia in Russia. It has an area of 777,000 sq km (300,000 sq mi). Ice-locked for most of the year, the sea is usually a navigable fishing ground during August and September and is an outlet for the Yenisey, Pyasina, Taymyr, and Ob’ rivers. The chief ports of the Kara Sea are Dikson and Tambey. The Northern Sea Route, maintained for shipping year round, passes through the Kara Sea. The route also passes through the Kassk Strait (Proliv Karskiye Vorota), which connects the Kara Sea with the Pechorsk Sea (Pechorskoye More), and the Vil'kitsk Strait (Proliv Vil'kitskogo), which connects the Kara Sea with the Laptev Sea (More Laptevykh). The Matochkin Strait (Proliv Matochkin Shar), dividing Novaya Zemlya, connects the Kara Sea with the Barents Sea.

Laptev Sea (Russian More Laptevykh), part of the Arctic Ocean, off the northern coast of Siberia Russia. The Taymyr Peninsula is to the west, and the New Siberian Islands (Russian Novosibirskiye Ostrova) are to the east. The sea is frozen for much of the year. Tiksi, near the mouth of the Lena River, is the chief port. The Laptev Sea is named for the 18th-century Russian cousins Khariton and Dmitri Laptev, who explored and mapped its shores

Beaufort Sea, arm of the Arctic Ocean, bordered on the east and south by Canada, and on the southwest by Alaska. In the north it extends from Point Barrow, Alaska, to the Canadian Archipelago. The sea occupies an area of 450,000 sq km (170,000 sq mi). The average depth is 1,000 m (3,300 ft) and the maximum depth is 4,682 m (15,361 ft). The coastal waters of the Beaufort Sea are shallow, generally measuring less than 50 m (160 ft). Most of the sea is permanently covered by the polar ice pack, which is often more than 5 m (15 ft) thick, although ice along the shores melts during the summer. The Mackenzie River, one of the longest rivers in North America, flows into the sea near the town of Inuvik.

Approximately 10,000 people live along the coast of the Beaufort Sea; almost all are Inupiat in Alaska and Inuvialuit in Canada. Alaskan communities along the sea include Barrow, the largest, as well as Nuiqsut and Kaktovik; Canadian communities include Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk, Aklavik, Sachs Harbour, Paulatuk, and Holman. Wildlife in the region includes musk ox, caribou, reindeer, herring, salmon, seabirds, and bowhead and beluga whales.

Offshore drilling for oil and gas is possible in the shallow coastline waters of the Beaufort Sea, especially in the Canadian section, which has an extensive continental shelf. Sparked by high oil prices in the 1970s, oil companies drilled hundreds of wells in the sea and discovered significant deposits of oil and gas. However, further development has been prevented by lower oil prices, the high cost of production and shipping to southern markets, and a land claim settlement in 1984 between the Inuvialuit and the Canadian government. Oil wells near Prudhoe Bay (an arm of the Beaufort Sea) began operating in 1977, sending oil through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline to the ice-free port of Valdez in southern Alaska; these wells continue to operate.

The sea was named for British naval officer Sir Francis Beaufort, who supported explorations in the area during the 19th century. Later in the century whaling became an important industry in the region. Herschel Island, located off the coast of the Yukon Territory, served as a wintering station for U.S. whaling ships. Commercial whaling generally ceased by the early 20th century, although the indigenous peoples, who had assisted the whalers, continued to harvest marine life for local use. During an expedition into the Canadian Arctic (1913-1918), Canadian-born American explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson first crossed the ice and explored the Beaufort Sea.


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