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The Arctic Ocean

The Arctic Ocean is the smallest of Earth’s five oceans. It is located almost entirely within the Arctic Circle in the North Polar Region. Surrounding the Arctic Ocean are the northernmost parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. The ocean is connected to the Pacific Ocean at the Bearing Straight, the waterway between Siberia (Russia) and Alaska (USA). The Arctic Ocean is connected to the Atlantic Ocean at the Greenland Sea, east of Greenland.

A layer of sea ice covers a large part of the Arctic Ocean for at least part of the year. More sea ice forms during the winter, when it is the coldest. In the summer, when it is warmer, much of the sea ice melts. Because our planet is warming, the amount of sea ice that stays around all year long is shrinking. In fact, at some point within the next few decades there will likely be no sea ice during summer in the Arctic Ocean.

Marine life in the Arctic Ocean include a few large mammals such as walruses and whales, as well as smaller animals such as fish, species of invertebrate animals that live in the water and on the ocean floor. Phytoplankton, tiny marine plants, are the start most marine food chains. During the summer, when the days are very long, these plants can photosynthesizefor a long time each day, and they reproduce quickly. In winter, phytoplankton struggle to get enough sunlight to survive. There are species of algae and small animals that live within the sea ice and small animals that live underneath the sea ice. There is still much that is not known about the organisms that live within and under the Arctic sea ice.

Last modified January 26, 2011 by Jennifer Bergman.

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The Winter 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist, focuses on Earth System science, including articles on student inquiry, differentiated instruction, geomorphic concepts, the rock cycle, and much more!

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