The Arctic Ocean

The Arctic Ocean, the smallest of Earth’s five oceans, is located almost entirely within the Arctic Circle in the North Polar Region. The northernmost parts of the European, Asian, and North American continents surround the Arctic Ocean. 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 much of the Arctic Ocean for at least part of the year. More sea ice forms in the winter months, until it nearly covers the entire Arctic Ocean. In the summer months, much of the sea ice melts. Because our planet is warming, the amount of sea ice that stays around all year long is decreasing. 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, and tons of phytoplankton. Phytoplankton, tiny marine plants, are the primary producers that start most marine food chains. During the summer, when the days are very long, these plants can photosynthesize for long periods of time 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 live on the underside of the sea ice. There is still much that is not known about the diversity of organisms that live within and under the Arctic sea ice.

Last modified January 26, 2011 by Jennifer Bergman.

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

The Arctic: Earth's North Polar Region

North of the Arctic Circle (at 66.5°N latitude) you will find the Arctic Ocean surrounded by the northernmost parts of the continents of Europe, Asia, and North America. You will find the geographic North...more

Sea Ice in the Arctic and Antarctic

Sea ice is frozen seawater. It can be several meters thick and it moves over time. Although the salts in the seawater do not freeze, pockets of concentrated salty water become trapped in the sea ice when...more


Photosynthesis is the name of the process by which autotrophs (self-feeders) convert water, carbon dioxide, and solar energy into sugars and oxygen. It is a complex chemical process by which plants and...more

Arctic Ocean Currents

To understand the dynamics of the Arctic Ocean and its impact on surrounding areas and global climate, one must understand the fundamentals of the system. Cold, relatively fresh water comes into the Arctic...more

Methane Releases from Arctic Shelf May Be Much Larger and Faster Than Anticipated

A section of the Arctic Ocean seafloor that holds vast stores of frozen methane is showing signs of instability and widespread venting of the powerful greenhouse gas, according to the findings of an international...more

Polar Bears on Thin Ice

“Polar bears are one of nature’s ultimate survivors, able to live and thrive in one of the world’s harshest environments, but we are concerned the polar bears’ habitat may literally be melting” said US...more

Polar Oceans

There are two oceans in Earth’s polar regions: the Arctic Ocean, which occupies most of the north polar region, and the Southern Ocean, which surrounds the continent of Antarctica in the south polar region....more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA