Oceans and seas

Bering Strait

May 13, 2011, 1:22 pm
Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Content Cover Image

Bering Strait. Source: Norman Einstein

The Bering Strait is a narrow ocean passage separating the North American and Asian continents.With Cape Prince of Wales on the Seward Peninsula of Alaska to the east, and Cape Dezhnyov, Chukotskiy Poluostrovof, Siberia to the west, the Bering Strait separates the USA and the Russia by only 90 kilometers. This strait connects the Bering Sea to the south with the Chukchi Sea to the north. The Arctic Circle is just north of the Strai


During the last ice age, the locking up of significant amounts of water in ice sheets and glaciers lowered seas levels sufficiently to create a land bridge where the Bering Strait now exists. At some time approximately 13,000 to 15,000 years before present one of the great human migrations began with Siberian peoples crossing an ice bridge at the location of the Bering Strait, to explore, settle and populate North America for the first time.

caption Animation of Bering Land Bridge. Source: NASA

The narrow strait is named for Danish explorer Vitus Bering, who passed through the Bering Strait into the Arctic Ocean in August 1728 leading an expedition of Russian sailors. During this passage the coast of North America was not sighted but Bering was able to conclude that there was no land bridge between the two continents.

A later expedition in 1741, mapping the Arctic coast of Siberia, resulted in Bering and Aleksey Chirikov (commanding a second ship) exploring the North American side of the Bering Sea, discovering the Aleution Islands and Gulf of Alaska.

In 1736, an earlier passage through the Bering Strait by Semyon Dezhnyov in 1648, 80 years before Bering, became widely known.  Dezhnyov reported discovering two islands where the natives had bone lip ornaments. IHowever, it is not clear whether the islands, Dezhnyov reported were in fact the Diomedes.


caption Diomede Islands Bering Sea Jul 2006.jpg Diomede Islands: Little Diomede Island or Kruzenstern Island (left) and Big Diomede Island or Ratmanov Island in the Bering Sea. Photo is from the north on July 16, 2006. Source: Dave Cohoe/Wikipedia

The boundary between the USA and Russia lies between Big and Little Diomede Islands, which are visible in the middle of the Bering Strait. The boundary was defined in the 1867 sale of Alaska by Russia to the United States.

Water Masses

The transport of water through this passage, estimated at about 0.6 Sv of northward flowing low salinity water largely supplied by the Anadyr Current, contributes little to the global budgets of any ocean properties. Its principal role in large-scale circulation is apparently its contribution to the stratification of the Arctic Ocean

caption Satellite image of the Bering Strait (August, 2000). At the bottom of the image right is St. Lawrence Island. Situated in the Bering Sea, it is part of Alaska and home to Yupik Eskimos. Source: NASA

caption US NOAA nautical chart of Bering Strait


Further Reading

  • Peter Saundry. 2011. Seas of the world. Topic ed. C.Michael Hogan. Ed.in chief Cutler J.Cleveland. Encyclopedia of Earth
  • Physical Oceanography Index,
  • Steller, Georg, Journal of a Voyage with Bering, 1741-1742, Stanford University Press, 1993, ISBN: 9780804721813
  • Frost, Orcutt, Bering: The Russian Discovery of America, Yale University Press, 2003, ISBN: 9780300100594
  • Dall, William Heally, Early Expeditions to the Region of Bering Sea and Strait: From the Reports and Journals of Vitus Ivanovich Bering, Nabu Press, 2010, ISBN: 9781149690291
  • Oliver, James A., The Bering Strait Crossing: A 21st century frontier between East and West, Information Architects, 2006, ISBN: 9780954699567
  • K. Aagaard, A. T. Roach, and J. D. Schumacher. On the wind-driven variability of the flow through Bering Strait. J. Geophys. Res., 90:-7221, 1985.
  • L. K. Coachman and K. Aagaard, Transports through Bering Strait: annual and interannual variability. J. Geophys. Res., 93:-15539, 1988.
  • L. W. Cooper, T. E. Whitledge, J. M. Grebmeir, and T. Weingartner. The nutrient, salinity, and stable oxygen isotope composition of Bering and Chukchi Seas waters in and near the Bering Strait. JGR, 102:,563-12,574, 1997.


Saundry, P. (2011). Bering Strait. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/150495


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