The Arctic Waters
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
The relationship between the icy polar sea, the reflective sea ice, and the atmosphere in the Arctic is fundamental in understanding global climate change as well as the impact of environmental pollution. Scientists are actively developing models of the Arctic Ocean, sea ice, and atmosphere in their attempt to further understand these sensitive interactions and relationships. These major elements actually impact the rest of the planet in very fundamental ways.
Arctic Ocean: The Topography
The Arctic Ocean itself contains a deep basin which is split by a high underwater ridge or mountain range. This ridge, the Lomonsov Range, is located under the point where the IAP team stood at the North Pole! It actually runs from Siberia to Greenland. Surrounding the two-mile-deep ocean basin are several million square kilometers of continental shelf. The surface of the ocean is covered with a relatively thin layer of sea ice — about eight to twelve feet thick. The currents from the sea drive this relatively thin layer of sea ice, causing it to drift or move great distances. The two major currents are the Trans Polar drift and the Beaufort Gyre.
The Gulf Stream and the Arctic Ocean
One area of the Arctic, in particular, has a profound impact on the world's climate systems and global ocean circulatory systems. This is the area where the warmer, temperate water from the Gulf Stream in the North Atlantic meets the colder icy waters of the Arctic Ocean. This area is know as the Fram Straight. It is between northern Greenland and Svalbard (Spitsbergen, Norway). A tremendous quantity of water interacts here. As the warm water moves in and the cold water moves out through the Fram Straight, 7 million cubic meters per second is transferred. This is several hundred times the average flow of the Mississippi River! In addition, 100,000 tons of sea ice per second is removed from the Arctic Ocean through this narrow region. The impact of this exchange of water, ice, and heat on the world's ocean currents and on the world's climate is profound. The implication of any change in temperature in this area is likewise very sobering. If the sea ice melts or "retreats" because of any warming, the transfer dynamics are greatly impacted.
Four Freshwater Rivers
Another factor in the ocean's dynamics are the presence of the four major freshwater rivers which pour into the Arctic Ocean — the Mackenzie in Canada and the Lena, Ob, and Yenisey in Russia. These rivers carry with them 90,000 cubic meters of water per second. It is a huge amount of water and this freshwater presence in the Arctic Ocean has a tremendous impact — both in terms of the physical characteristics of the ocean but also in terms of the potential pollutants carried into the polar sea.
The Arctic Ocean is indeed a sensitive, fluid, and dynamic part of our world!