Warming Of East Siberian

The East Siberian Sea, 913,000 sq km (352,510 sq mi) in area, is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean located north of the Sahka Republic and Chukchi Autonomous Okrug along the northeast coast of Russia. The sea is bounded by the New Siberian Islands in the west and the International Dateline (180° E) and Wrangel Island to the east. The sea has a wide continental shelf and is open to the Arctic Ocean in the north. It has an average depth of 54 m and very shallow depths along the southern coast: 10-20 m in the western and central regions, and 30-40 m in the east. Seventy-two per cent of its area has depths 74 m or less, making it the shallowest of the Russian Arctic seas. Three key rivers, the Kolyma, Indigirka, and Alazeya (and several smaller rivers), flow into the East Siberian Sea; however, the total runoff is less than that of the Kara or Laptev seas. Three major navigation straits of the Northern Sea Route provide access to the East Siberian Sea: Sannikov Strait and Dmitriy Laptev Strait through the New Siberian Islands in the west, and Long Strait separating Wrangel Island from the mainland (Chukotka) in the east.

The climate of the East Siberian Sea is influenced by cold, Asian air masses as well as the cold Arctic basin. Mean winter temperatures range from -37°C to -15°C, while mean summer temperatures range from -12°C to 7°C. As a result of these extreme temperatures and the wide continental shelf, fast ice up to 2 m (6.5 ft) thick extends during winter 250-500 km (155-310 mi) from the mainland coast. The sea is completely ice-covered

ARCTIC OCEAN

ISLANDS

SIBERIAN Wrangel CHUKCHI ^

Urns Strait V

RUSSIA --A

East Siberian Sea and surrounding islands and seas.

LAPTEV

65 N

from mid-October to late June. Usually 50% of the sea has a partial ice cover at the height of the melt season and multiyear ice from the central Arctic Ocean can be found in the northeast region, both significant factors for ships sailing the Northern Sea Route. The Siberian Coastal Current flows eastward along the length of the East Siberian Sea, although westward coastal drifts have been observed during the 1990s. A cyclonic gyre (anticlockwise flow) is located near Wrangel Island, water moving to the west and northwest in the sea's northern extremities.

The shores of the East Siberian Sea are thinly populated due to the harsh climate. The only major port is Pevek (~ 10,000 population), which has supported mining during a navigation season from June to September and is the operations center for the eastern half of the Northern Sea Route. Ambarchik is a small settlement near the mouth of the Kolyma River, but the more important riverport of Zelenyy Mys lies further to the south. The extreme climate has limited fauna in the region; fish are abundant in the rivers and lakes, but there are no viable fisheries in the open sea. Polar bears, walruses, and ringed seals can be found in the East Siberian Sea, but hardly any whales.

There is evidence that Semen Dezhnev and others sailed down the Kolyma River and along the East Siberian and Chukchi seas in 1648 before voyaging through the Bering Strait. The Great Northern Expedition (1733—1743) also explored sea regions from the Kolyma River, but did not venture east. In 1878—1879, Nordenskiold aboard Vega completed the first west to east transit of the Northern Sea Route, sailing along the East Siberian Sea in August and September 1878 before overwintering east of Wrangel Island. During the Soviet era of Northern Sea Route expansion in the 1960s through the 1980s, the East Siberian Sea remained a difficult operating region except for the short summer. Regional warming and sea ice reductions during the 1990s give increasing access.

Lawson W. Brigham

See also Indigirka River; Kolyma River; New Siberian Islands; North East Passage; Northern Sea Route; Pevek; Wrangel Island

Further Reading

Brigham, Lawson W. (editor), The Soviet Maritime Arctic,

London: Belhaven Press, 1991 Maslanik, James, Mark Serreze & Roger Barry, "Recent decreases in Arctic summer ice cover and linkages to atmospheric circulation anomalies." Geophysical Research Letters, 23(13) (1996): 1677—1680 Ostreng, Willy (editor), The Natural and Societal Challenges of the Northern Sea Route: A Reference Work, Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1999

Vaughan, Richard, The Arctic: A History, Phoenix Mill, UK: Alan Sutton, 1994

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