Denmark Strait

Denmark Strait is in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean between Iceland and Greenland near 67o N and 27o W. It is about 600 km (370 miles) long and, at its narrowest, about 300 km (185 miles) wide. Continental shelves less than 200 m deep extend 100 km out from the coast of Iceland but less than 20 km from Greenland. The sill depth of the strait is approximately 600 m.

Denmark Strait carries the primary outflow of water from the Arctic Ocean in the cold, southward-flowing

East Greenland Current. The warmer and weaker North Icelandic Irminger Current flows northward in the eastern Denmark Strait near Iceland. Surface winds are primarily from the northeast and are stronger in winter than in summer. The current speed in the East Greenland Current is estimated at 0.1-0.3 ms-1. Denmark Strait carries about one-half of the total outflow of the very dense Arctic Bottom Water into the Atlantic, where it is modified and is a source of the North Atlantic Deep Water (see Thermohaline Circulation).

In a typical winter, the Greenland side of Denmark Strait is covered with sea ice, although in severe winters sea ice may extend to the Iceland coast. This ice flows southward and is composed of first-year ice formed in the Greenland Sea and multiyear ice from the central Arctic basin that is exported southward through Fram Strait and to Denmark Strait. Denmark Strait is normally free of sea ice by late summer but icebergs are abundant in the East Greenland Current all year. Thousands of icebergs from Greenland glaciers annually flow southward through Denmark Strait and into the Atlantic or Labrador Sea. The central Denmark Strait sea floor has 1-2 km of sediment of late Miocene to Quaternary age on top of the Greenland-Iceland basement ridge.

The Greenland side of Denmark Strait is uninhabited between Ittoqqortoormiit (Scoresbysund) in the north and Sermiligaaq in the south (although there is a hunting outpost in Kangerlussuaq, occasionally inhabited by hunters from the Tasiilaq area), a distance of over 700 km, due to rugged terrain, tidewater glaciers, and extensive sea ice. There are no coastal roads along the strait in Greenland. The Iceland side of the Denmark Strait has a milder climate, fewer glaciers, and less sea ice; hence, numerous communities developed with connecting highways and economies based on fishing, fish processing, sheep farming, services, and government. Commercially viable stocks of cod, halibut, haddock, salmon, char, and shrimp are found in Denmark Strait and adjacent coastal waters. There are several species of seals and whales in the strait.

In the Battle of Denmark Strait on May 24, 1941, the British battle cruiser HMS Hood, the largest warship in the world at the time, engaged with the German KM Bismark. The Hood went down with the loss of all but three of the 1416 on board.

Thomas W. Schmidlin See also Arctic Ocean; Greenland Sea

Further Reading

Hansen, B. & S. Osterhus, "North Atlantic-Nordic Seas exchanges." Progress in Oceanography, 45(2) (2000):



Hurdle, Burton (editor), The Nordic Seas, New York: Springer, 1986

Rudels, Bert, Hans Friedrich & Detlef Quadfasel, "The Arctic Circumpolar Boundary Current." Deep Sea Research II (Topical Studies in Oceanography), 46(6-7) (1999): 1023-1062

Shi, X.B., L.P. Roed & B. Hackett, "Variability of the Denmark Strait overflow: a numerical study." In Journal of Geophysical Research—Oceans, 106(C10) (2001): 22277-22294

Tomczak, Matthias & J. Stuart Godfrey, Regional Oceanography: An Introduction, Oxford: Pergamon, 1994, web site of the US Navy. Provides information on the World War II Battle of Denmark Strait

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