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

15
The East Coast of Severnaya Zemlya
and the Vilkitsky Strait

We reached the northern Laptev Sea—the More Lapteryka—on 10 August 1970 and came to periscope depth in international waters some thirty miles off Komsomolets Island. The Laptev Sea, originally named the Nordenskiöld Sea and renamed after Dmitri and Khariton Laptev of the Russian Great Northern Expedition, 1736–42, was the most explored of the three seas that Queenfish was to survey. Its southern and western areas had been regularly transited since the seventeenth century, following the sea's discovery by Ilya Perfirlyev and Ivan Rebrov of a Russian exploring expedition in 1634.1

The Laptev Sea extends from the Taymyr Peninsula and Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago in the west to the New Siberian Islands some 544 miles to the east. The northern boundary starts at Mys Arktichesky, the northernmost point of Komsomolets Island, and proceeds eastward to the crossing point of longitude 139° E, east of the northern tip of Lotel'ny Island, and the edge of the continental shelf at latitude 79° N. The southern boundary runs eastward along the Siberian coastline from the head of Khatanga Bay to Mys Svyatoy Nos.2

The width of the sea along latitude 75° N is 460 miles. Its breadth from Mys Chelyuskin to the Dmitry Laptev Strait in the south, which connects the Laptev Sea with the East Siberian Sea, is 720 miles. Although we had no idea of this in 1970, it is now known that about 66 percent of the Laptev Sea is less than 328 feet deep; water depths in the southern and southeastern areas, which make up 45 percent of the total area, range from 32.5 feet to 164 feet.3

An Arctic continental shelf sea, the Laptev is frozen for much of the year. Dur-

-132-

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