Unknown Waters: A Firsthand Account of the Historic Under-Ice Survey of the Siberian Continental Shelf by USS Queenfish (SSN-651)

By Alfred S. McLaren | Go to book overview

9
A Brief on the Arctic Ocean
and Siberian Continental Shelf

Any understanding of the challenges and hazards that Queenfish and her crew, and I as commanding officer, were soon to face must start with an appreciation of the vast extent, severe climate, and great shroud of mystery that characterizes the islands and seas of the still largely unexplored but vitally important Arctic Ocean.

The ice-covered Arctic Ocean is the smallest of the world's five oceans, encompassing a surface area of some 5,426 million square miles—still more than six and one-half times the size of the Mediterranean Sea.1 It is ringed by a considerable landmass, the continents of Europe, Asia, and North America and the huge island of Greenland, and is further restricted in size by the Greenland and Norwegian seas.

The bottom topography of the central Arctic Ocean is extraordinarily rugged, marked by deep basins and submerged mountain ranges. The deep-water portion of the ocean is the Arctic Basin, which is divided by the transoceanic, submerged Lomonosov Ridge into two main subbasins: the Amerasia (containing several “hollows” including the Canada Basin) and the Eurasia. The deepest part of the Arctic Ocean is in the Eurasia Basin, which at its deepest level plunges to 18,133 feet.2 Partly bisecting the Eurasia Basin is the submerged Gakkel Ridge, formerly called the Nansen Cordillera, which separates the Nansen and Amundsen basins and which Queenfish explored on this expedition for its possible tectonic or volcanic activity.

Approximately 50 percent of the Arctic Ocean's floor consists of continental

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