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The Beaufort Sea

Crepuscular rays illuminate the melting ice of the Beaufort Sea. (Photo: H.D.Nygren, NOAA)

The Beaufort Sea is bordered to the east and to the south by the Canadian Arctic coast. Point Barrow is the westernmost part of the shelf, where the Beaufort Sea hits the Chukchi Sea. The Canadian Archipelago represents the eastern and northeastern boundaries of the Beaufort Sea.


As compared to the Siberian shelf seas, the shallow Beaufort shelf is extremely narrow. Many furrows run through the sea floor. In former times, scientists believed that walrus plough the shelf bottom with their tusks during search for food thereby leaving such traces in the sediment surface. However, according to recent knowledge, large sea ice pressure ridges - the so-called stamukha - touch the bottom and scratch along the shelf floor thereby producing the furrows.


Besides central Arctic water masses, the Beaufort Sea hydrography is strongly influenced by Atlantic water flowing in through the Canadian Archipelago, and by Pacific waters from the west. The Mackenzie River - the fourth largest Arctic stream - drains into the Beaufort Sea. The Mackenzie delta is located close to a small town called Inuvik. Subsequent to the high fresh water discharge of the Mackenzie River, the salinity of the near coastal water masses in the eastern part of the Beaufort Sea is significantly reduced.


Most part of the Beaufort Sea is ice covered throughout the year. A narrow zone of fast ice extends along the coast. Huge amounts of central Arctic pack ice are pressed into the Beaufort Sea by the clockwise rotating Beaufort ice-gyre. Subsequently, narrow channels of open water - the so-called polynyas or flaw leads - occur infrequently.