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Arctic Ocean

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The smallest ocean on the Earth, c.5,400,000 sq mi (13,986,000 sq km, located entirely within the Arctic Circle and occupying the region around the North Pole.

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Nearly landlocked, the Arctic Ocean is bordered by Greenland, Canada, Alaska, Russia, and Norway. The Bering Strait connects it with the Pacific Ocean and the Greenland Sea is the chief link with the Atlantic Ocean. The principal arms of the Arctic Ocean are the Greenland, Beaufort, Chukchi, East Siberian, Laptev, Kara, and Barents seas.

The Arctic basin was almost wholly unexplored until the Amundsen-Ellsworth flight over it in 1926. Arctic research was stimulated when it was recognised that the shortest air routes between the great cities of the Northern Hemisphere cross the Arctic Ocean.

Improved technology has also facilitated research, with the development of aerial and satellite photography and photogrammetry for precise mapping, the sonic echo sounder for measuring ocean depths, and radio to maintain contact with the rest of the world. Detailed knowledge of drifts and ice floes, water depths, and the ocean floor has vastly increased.

Soviet polar scientists investigated (1948-49) the Lomonosov Ridge, an undersea mountain range that influences the pattern of ice drift and the circulation and exchange of water in the Arctic Ocean. American scientists in 1959 discovered the existence of a submarine plateau rising 8,100 ft (2,469 m) from the ocean floor. In 1995 the U.S. navy agreed to lend its force of nuclear attack submarines for a series of civilian expeditions to the Arctic.

One fact of great potential importance is now being studied - the Arctic Ocean is warming. Recorded temperatures, glacial regressions, and the appearance of observed species of fish in larger numbers, at higher latitudes, at earlier seasons, and for long periods prove that over the decades a "climatic improvement" has taken place.

Similar changes have been reported in sub-Arctic latitudes. Whether the warming is a phase in a cycle or a permanent development cannot yet be said. The warming may be affecting wind patterns above the region, amplifying the depletion of the ozone layer.

The area of the Arctic Ocean covered by year-round ice has decreased since the late 1970s.

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