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The Arctic Ocean Environment

written by: Edna •edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 7/10/2009

Despite cold water temperatures, snow, ice packs and limited sunlight, the Arctic ocean is teeming with life.

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    Where is the arctic ocean?

    The Arctic Ocean is located in the Arctic polar region of the northern hemisphere and is surrounded by Europe, Greenland, Asia, and North America. It is the smallest of the five major oceans (Pacific, Atlantic, Arctic, Indian and Southern Oceans), barely above freezing and is covered by ice all winter and most of the summer. Oceanographers have found the Arctic Ocean connects with the Pacific Ocean through the Bering Strait and to the Atlantic Ocean by the Greenland and Labrador Seas.

    The Arctic Ocean covers 5,427,000 square miles and forms a circular basin around the Arctic region. It is 1000 meters deep, but roughly a third of the ocean is shallow. The Arctic ocean is also the least salty of the five oceans, due to a large influx of freshwater from seas, bays, rivers and limited access to other oceans.

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    What lives in the arctic ocean environment?

    Due to the severe water temperatures, ice packs and lack of year round sunlight, many species that live in the Arctic Ocean environment are unique and can't be found anywhere else in the world. Scientists involved in the ongoing researwalrus family Joel Garlich-Miller-400x300 ch of the Arctic ocean have divided the biodiversity into three realms: sea ice, water column and sea floor. Marine mammals, birds and fish also play a large role in the biodiversity of the ocean environment.

    Organisms in the sea ice are much smaller than those in other realms - less than 1 millimeter- and live in networks of small brine channels and at the boundary between the water and ice. Bacteria, diatoms and flagellates tend to dominate the sea ice community. Algae blooms increase from April to September when the the ice melts and more sunlight is available. The water column is home to jelly fish, water fleas, sand fleas, sea butterflies, sea gooseberries, copepods and larval fish. Some algae and other diatoms also live in the column. Actual numbers of species are unknown due to the influx of other water systems and severe research conditions.

    Animals that live on the seafloor depend upon food from the water column. It appears that food supply, not water temperatures, controls the survival of the animals that live in the Arctic. The continental shelves are dominated by mollusks, sea cucumbers, sponges, basket stars, sea urchins, brittle stars, bristle worms and sea anemones. Of the 5000 species of marine invertebrates found in the Arctic, 350-400 species live in the deepest part of the ocean.

    Other animals that make up the Arctic food chain include fish, mammals and marine birds. Major fish species include sharks, skates and rays, trout, salmon, lamprey, flounder and cod. 12 species of marine mammals including the polar bear, walrus; grey, bowhead and buluga whale; and harp, spotted and bearded seals spend most of their time in the Arctic community. Other mammals are seen occasionally.Over 40 species of marine birds - including loons, gulls, terns and cormorants - breed and nest in the Arctic. Many species migrate to the Arctic during the summer to nest and leave when winter comes.