Arctic Ocean Geography

excerpted from: THE WORLD FACTBOOK 1994, ELECTRONIC VERSION produced by the Central Intelligence Agency.


Location: body of water mostly north of the Arctic Circle

Map references: Arctic Region, Asia, North America, Standard Time Zones of the World

total area 14.056 million sq km
comparative area slightly more than 1.5 times the size of the US; smallest of the world's four oceans (after Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, and Indian Ocean)
note includes Baffin Bay, Barents Sea, Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, East Siberian Sea, Greenland Sea, Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea, Northwest Passage, and other tributary water bodies

Coastline: 45,389 km

International disputes: some maritime disputes (see littoral states); Svalbard is the focus of a maritime boundary dispute between Norway and Russia

Climate: polar climate characterized by persistent cold and relatively narrow annual temperature ranges; winters characterized by continuous darkness, cold and stable weather conditions, and clear skies; summers characterized by continuous daylight, damp and foggy weather, and weak cyclones with rain or snow

Terrain: central surface covered by a perennial drifting polar icepack that averages about 3 meters in thickness, although pressure ridges may be three times that size; clockwise drift pattern in the Beaufort Gyral Stream, but nearly straight line movement from the New Siberian Islands (Russia) to Denmark Strait (between Greenland and Iceland); the ice pack is surrounded by open seas during the summer, but more than doubles in size during the winter and extends to the encircling land masses; the ocean floor is about 50% continental shelf (highest percentage of any ocean) with the remainder a central basin interrupted by three submarine ridges (Alpha Cordillera, Nansen Cordillera, and Lomonsov Ridge); maximum depth is 4,665 meters in the Fram Basin

Natural resources: sand and gravel aggregates, placer deposits, polymetallic nodules, oil and gas fields, fish, marine mammals (seals and whales)

current issues endangered marine species include walruses and whales; fragile ecosystem slow to change and slow to recover from disruptions or damage
natural hazards ice islands occasionally break away from northern Ellesmere Island; icebergs calved from glaciers in western Greenland and extreme northeastern Canada; permafrost in islands; virtually icelocked from October to June
international agreements NA

Note: major chokepoint is the southern Chukchi Sea (northern access to the Pacific Ocean via the Bering Strait); ships subject to superstructure icing from October to May; strategic location between North America and Russia; shortest marine link between the extremes of eastern and western Russia, floating research stations operated by the US and Russia; maximum snow cover in March or April about 20 to 50 centimeters over the frozen ocean and lasts about 10 months


Digraph: XQ


Overview: Economic activity is limited to the exploitation of natural resources, including petroleum, natural gas, fish, and seals.


Ports: Churchill (Canada), Murmansk (Russia), Prudhoe Bay (US)

Telecommunications: no submarine cables

Note: sparse network of air, ocean, river, and land routes; the Northwest Passage (North America) and Northern Sea Route (Eurasia) are important seasonal waterways

Ocean Planet Exhibition Floorplan

gene carl feldman ( (301) 286-9428
Judith Gradwohl, Smithsonian Institution (Curator/Ocean Planet)