The smallest ocean in the world is the Arctic Ocean, it is only 1.5 times as big as the United States at 5.4 million square miles and sits along the borders of Greenland, Canada, Russia, Alaska, and Norway.
As most of you probably know, 71% of our Earth is covered by water; this includes oceans, rivers, lakes, groundwater, and swamps. Of that water, over 90% is salt water, meaning our oceans take up the largest amount of water (which is not surprising).
We have 5 oceans on our Earth, the largest being the Pacific ocean and the smallest is the Arctic Ocean. To learn all about the Arctic ocean, check out this guide.
The world cannot live without the Arctic; it affects every living thing on Earth and acts as a virtual thermostat, reflecting sunlight and cooling the planet. – Philippe Cousteau, Jr.
The Smallest Ocean In The World
Geography Of The Arctic
Before we delve deeper into the Arctic Ocean, it is important to note where it is geographically. The Arctic Ocean lies at the very top of Earth, going from Russia and the northern reaches of Europe (Norway, and Iceland) to Canada and along the Alaskan coastline. It also surrounds Greenland and a multitude of tiny islands.
The Arctic takes up an area of roughly 5.5 million square miles, with more than 28,000 miles of coastline. The average depth of the Arctic is around 3,500 feet but its deepest point comes in at a whopping 17,800 feet at the Litke Deep basin. The Lomonosov Ridge is so high that it actually splits the Arctic into 2 basins; the Amerasian basin (also called the North American basin) and the Eurasian basin. Those major basins are also divided into smaller basins; the Canada Basin, Makarov Basin, the Amundsen Basin, and the Nansen Basin. The Arctic Ocean is home to 3 continental shelves; the Canadian Arctic shelf, and the Russian continental shelf (which includes a number of smaller shelves in and of itself).
While the Arctic is primarily barren it does host a number of very important harbors and ports, including (in alphabetical order):
- Arkhangelsk Port (Russia)
- Barrow, Alaska (United States)
- Kirkenes (Norway)
- Longyearbyen (Norway)
- Murmansk Port (Russia)
- Nanisivik Naval Facility (Canada)
- Nuuk Port and Harbor (Greenland)
- Port of Churchill (Canada)
- Prudhoe Bay, Alaska (United States)
- Tiksi Port (Russia)
The Arctic Ocean also includes these bodies of water (in alphabetical order):
- Baffin Bay
- Barents Sea
- Chukchi Sea
- East Siberian Sea
- Greenland Sea (connects the Arctic to the Atlantic Ocean)
- Hudson Bay
- Kara Sea
- Labrador Sea (connects the Arctic to the Atlantic Ocean)
- Laptev Sea
- The Bering Strait (connects the Arctic to the Pacific Ocean)
- White Sea
The Arctic Ocean is covered with a cap of sea ice that has been slowly getting smaller since the 1980’s. This sea ice is actually affected by ocean currents and winds which is actually strong enough to move and shift the ice around. At times, sea ice is known to break off and will float down into the ocean. These icebergs pose a massive threat and these icebergs have been known to take out ships, the most famous of which was the infamous Titanic.
As you might expect, the Arctic Ocean is pretty darn cold. Saltwater freezes at about 28 degrees Fahrenheit, and the ocean temperature typically stays near that. Unlike the Antarctic, the Arctic does not experience extreme cold because in the winter the waters are slightly warmer than that of the south pole. The temperatures are very stable in the Arctic, and the average temperature year-round is about 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Around April or late March, the snowpack is typically the thickest, ranging from 8 inches up to 20 inches thick.
In the summer the Arctic experiences 24-hour sunshine because of the tilt of the earth. During that time the temperature can rise above the freezing point, but not much more than that. What is interesting is that the Arctic is usually cloudy. At least 80% of the summertime is characterized by clouds, and it is cloudy at least 60% of the time during the winter. Cyclones occur in the summertime and the cyclones can bring either rain or snow. The Cyclones only form on the Atlantic side of the Arctic Ocean, however.
Life in The Arctic
As desolate as it may seem, the Arctic Ocean harbors life. Not only do a multitude of different animals like in the Arctic, there are also people that live up there.
Here are some of the more notable animals that call the Arctic home are:
- Polar bears
- Lions Mane Jellyfish
- Arctic foxes
- Arctic hare
- Red fox
- Beluga whales
- Arctic tern
- Narwhal (can only be found in the Arctic Ocean)
- Hooded seal
Humans also call the Arctic home. Here are some indigenous people in the Arctic:
Smallest Ocean Interesting Facts
Now let’s go over some really interesting facts about the Arctic Ocean:
- Polar bears can only be found in the Arctic
- Some people believe that the Arctic Ocean is not an ocean at all and would like to reclassify it as a sea
- From October to June the Arctic Ocean is totally ice-locked, making it almost impossible for ships to pass through the ocean
- Penguins do not live in the Arctic Ocean, despite the common belief that they do
- The Arctic is home to incredibly large reserves of natural gas and oil, however, no countries can “claim” that area to actually begin to mine it for resources
- The Arctic Ocean has the least amount of salinity of all 5 oceans because there are so much river and stream runoff into it
- Not only does the Arctic Ocean get complete sunshine in the summer, it also gets complete darkness at times
- The name “Arctic” actually means “bear” in Greek and is named after the Ursua Major and Minor constellations (Ursa minor means “little bear” and Ursa major means “big bear”)
- The Arctic ice does not actually melt away, it grows thin to about 6 feet deep
- The Arctic Ocean attracts a lot of tourists yearly
- In the Arctic, you can very clearly and easily see the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis (part of the tourist attraction)