Most of Alaska is surrounded by water. To the north and northwest, respectively, are two Alaska bodies of water, the Beaufort Sea and the Chukchi Sea, both of which merge into the Arctic Ocean. To the southeast is the Gulf of Alaska, which blends into the Pacific Ocean. The Bering Sea is to the southwest.
The Arctic Ocean is the smallest of all the oceans. It lies almost entirely above the Arctic Circle and is extremely cold and covered in ice most of the time. It is divided into two basins, the Eurasian Basin, and the North American Basin, by the Lomonosov Ridge. The outlets for this ocean are the Bering Strait, between Alaska and Russia; the Davis Strait, between Greenland and Canada; and the Denmark Strait and the Norwegian Sea, between Greenland and Europe. This ocean is home to fish, seals, walruses and whales due to its low temperature. The center of this ocean is covered by an average 10-foot-thick polar icepack that extends outward during the winter months, doubling in size and extending to encircling landmasses. Open seas surround the icepack during the summer months but it never completely disappears.
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of all oceans. It covers about 28 percent of the global surface and is 15 times the size of the United States. During the winter, sea ice forms and many ships are also subjected to icing from October to May. The Pacific Ocean is home to marine life forms such as sea lions, sea otters, seals, turtles and whales. Economically, the Pacific Ocean offers accessible, relatively low-cost sea transportation, extensive fishing grounds, offshore oil and gas fields, minerals, and sand and gravel for the construction industry and more than 60 percent of the world's fish come from the Pacific Ocean.
Gulf of Alaska
The Alaska Current and the Alaska Coastal Current take over the Gulf of Alaska. These currents function as pathways for organisms and the resources upon which they depend. A few inlets, such as Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound, protect organisms from the strong currents. This gulf contains many large glaciers and icebergs that are carried to sea by the strong currents.
The Bering Sea is one of the largest marine ecosystems in the world. It is between Siberia and Alaska. To the north, it is connected to the Chukchi Sea and Arctic Ocean by the Bering Strait; the Pacific Ocean lies to Bering Sea's south, past the Aleutian Islands and the Alaska Peninsula from which the islands trail.
The Bering Sea is home to many large birds and marine animals, such as fur seals and whales. The sea's temperature increased over the past 50 years, reducing certain fish and marine animal populations. This worries people in the fishing industries, as this sea has been one of its major sources of fish.
The Beaufort Sea is north of Alaska within the Arctic Ocean. It was named after the British rear admiral Sir Francis Beaufort. The sea covers about 184,000 square miles and the average depth is 3,239 feet, but it plunges as far as 15,360 feet down. The sea is frozen solid in the central and northern area with the coastal icepack opening in August and September. Whales and sea birds are two of the most common animals found near Alaska in the Beaufort Sea. In 1986, many petroleum reserves were found in Alaska's Prudhoe Bay, which is within the this sea.
The Chukchi Sea is also within the Arctic Ocean, northwest of Alaska. This sea contains a shallow floor that provides nutrients and habitat for animals such as walruses, ice seals, whales, sea birds and polar bears. This sea is home to a tenth of the world's population of polar bears. The changing climate, causing temperature to rise, is affecting the population of polar bears, because the melting ice is making it more difficult for them to hunt for food. As the sea ice continues to melt, many oil and gas companies are interested in drilling in that specific area.
- glacier bay, Alaska image by Alan James from Fotolia.com