Bering Sea

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Bering Sea,

c.878,000 sq mi (2,274,020 sq km), northward extension of the Pacific Ocean between Siberia and Alaska. It is screened from the Pacific proper by the Aleutian Islands. The Bering Strait connects it with the Arctic Ocean. The sea's largest embayments are the Gulf of Anadyr, Norton Sound, and Bristol Bay. The Anadyr River enters the sea from the west and the Yukon River from the east. The warm Japan Current has little influence on the Bering Sea, which has much ice; it can usually be traversed by ship only from June to October. The sea has many islands, notably Nunivak, St. Lawrence, Hall, St. Matthew, and the Pribilof Islands (all owned by the United States) and the Komandorski Islands (Russia).

The sea was explored by the Russian Semyon Dezhnev in the 17th cent., but not until after the voyages of Vitus BeringBering, Vitus Jonassen
, 1681–1741, Danish explorer in Russian employ. In 1725 he was selected by Peter I to explore far NE Siberia. Having finally moved men and supplies across Siberia, Bering in 1728 sailed N through Bering Strait but sighted no land and did not
..... Click the link for more information.
 (1728, 1741) was the fur-seal wealth of the Bering Sea made widely known. The whole region was under the control of the Russian American Company, but it proved impossible to prevent mariners from other nations from getting the skins of the seals and the sea otters.

The question of protecting the seals became (1886) the subject of a bitter international incident called the Bering Sea Fur-Seal Controversy. The seal herd that summered in the Pribilof Islands wintered farther south; when returning north in the spring they could be taken in the open sea. The pelagic (open-sea) sealing, practiced by Canadian and other sealing vessels, greatly reduced the herd and threatened it with extinction. The Alaska Commercial Company, which had a U.S. monopoly on the sealing, protested to the U.S. government, and in 1886 several Canadian vessels were seized and were condemned by a court at Sitka, Alaska.

The legal basis for such action was the claim that Russia had controlled all the Bering Sea and that the control had passed to the United States with the purchase of Alaska in 1867; by claiming to exercise jurisdiction beyond the three-mile limit the United States had invoked the doctrine of mare clausum (closed sea) for the first time. This was not accepted by the British, and a move to settle the matter of protection by international agreement was blocked by the Canadians. The matter was referred to an international court of arbitration, which, meeting in Paris, declared in 1893 against the U.S. claim and awarded $473,151 in damages to the owners of the seized vessels. It also imposed some restrictions on pelagic sealing, but these were ineffective.

In 1911, Great Britain, Russia, Japan, and the United States agreed to prohibit pelagic sealing; sealing in the Pribilofs was put completely under U.S. supervision. For several years sealing was stopped completely, and then it was resumed but only under careful restrictions. In 1941, Japan withdrew from the agreement, but a new agreement was signed in 1956.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Bering Sea


(named after the navigator V. Bering), a semienclosed sea of the Pacific Ocean, located between the continents of Asia (the USSR) on the west and North America (the USA) on the east, and the Komandorskii (USSR) and Aleutian (USA) islands to the south. In the north, it is enclosed by the Chukchi and Seward peninsulas. It is joined by the Bering Strait to the Chukchi Sea of the Arctic Ocean. Its area is 2,304,000 sq km, its average depth is 1,598 m (maximum, 4,191 m), its average volume of water is 3,683,000 cu km, and its length is 1,632 km from north to south and 2,408 km from west to east.

The shores of the Bering Sea are primarily high and craggy and sharply indented, forming many bays and gulfs. The largest gulfs are Anadyr and Oliutorskii in the west and Bristol Bay and Norton Bay in the east. Many rivers flow into the Bering Sea, the largest being the Anadyr and Apuka in the west and the Yukon and Kuskokwim in the east. The islands of the Bering Sea are of continental origin. The largest are Karagin, St. Lawrence, Nunivak, Pribilof, and St. Matthew.

The Bering Sea is the largest of the geosynclinal seas of the Far East. The continental shelf (45 percent of the area), continental slope, submarine ridges, and a deepwater sink (36.5 percent of the area) can be distinguished in the terrain of the floor. The shelf occupies the northern and northeastern parts of the sea; it is characterized by a flat relief complicated by numerous shoals, troughs, submerged valleys, and the upper reaches of submarine canyons. Deposits on the shelf are predominantly terrigenous (sands, sandy silts, and near the shore, coarse fragments).

For the most part, the continental slope of the Bering Sea is fairly steep (8–15°). It is dissected by submarine canyons and often complicated by steps. South of the Pribilof Islands the slope is gentler and broader. The continental slope of Bristol Bay is intricately dissected by ledges, elevations, and sinks, as a result of intensive tectonic breakdown. The deposits of the continental slope are primarily terrigenous (sandy silts); there are many outcrops of basic Paleogene and Neogene-Quaternary rocks. There is a great admixture of volcanogenic material in the area of Bristol Bay.

The Shirshov and Bauers submarine ridges are arch-shaped elevations with volcanic forms. The Bauers Ridge exposes outcrops of diorites which, along with bow-shaped configurations, connects it to the Aleutian Island arc. The structure of the Shirshov range resembles that of the Oliutorskii Ridge—it is composed of volcanogenic and flysch rocks of the Cretaceous period.

The Shirshov and Bauers submarine ridges divide the deepwater sink of the Bering Sea into three basins: the Aleutian, or Central (maximum depth 3,782 m), the Bauers (4,097 m), and the Komandorskii (3,597 m). The basin floors are flat, abyssal plains, made up of diatomic silts on the surface; near the Aleutian arc there is a notable admixture of volcanogenic material. According to geophysical data, the thickness of the sedimentary stratum in deepwater basins reaches 2.5 km; under it is a basaltic stratum about 6 km in thickness. Thus, the deepwater part of the Bering Sea is characterized by a suboceanic type of crust.


The climate is created under the influence of the adjacent land and the proximity of the polar basin in the north, the open Pacific Ocean in the south, and the respective centers of atmospheric action that develop over them. The climate of the northern section of the sea is arctic and subarctic, with distinct continental features; the southern section is temperate and maritime. In winter, cyclonal circulation develops under the influence of the Aleutian atmospheric pressure minimum (998 millibars). As a result of this circulation, the eastern part of the sea, to which air is carried from the Pacific Ocean, is slightly warmer than the western part, which is influenced by cold arctic air (this comes with the winter monsoon). During this season, storms are frequent; in certain areas, the rate of recurrence reaches 47 percent a month. The average air temperature in February varies from –23°C in the north to 0 and -4°C in the south. In the summer the Aleutian minimum disappears, and southerly winds, which constitute a summer monsoon in the western part of the sea, dominate over the Bering Sea. Storms are rare in summer. The average August air temperature varies from 5°C in the north to 10° C in the south. The average annual cloudiness is 5–7 points in the north and 7–8 points in the south. The quantity of precipitation varies from 200–400 mm a year in the north to 1,500 mm a year in the south.

The hydrologic regimen is determined by climatic conditions, the water exchange with the Chukchi Sea and Pacific Ocean, continental discharge, and the freshening of surface sea waters by melting ice. Surface currents form a counterclockwise circle, which is followed on the eastern periphery to the north by warm waters from the Pacific Ocean—the Bering Sea branch of the Kuroshio warm current system. A portion of these waters enters the Chukchi Sea via the Bering Strait; another portion is diverted to the west and follows further to the south along the Asiatic coast, carrying cold water from the Chukchi Sea. A southern stream forms the Kamchatka current, by which the waters of the Bering Sea are carried into the Pacific. This network of currents is subject to appreciable change as a function of the prevailing winds. The tides of the Bering Sea are essentially determined by the circulation of the tidal wave from the Pacific Ocean. In the western part of the sea (to 62° N) tides reach a maximum of 2.4 m, and 3 m in the gulf of Krest; in the eastern section, they reach 6.4 m (Bristol Bay). The surface water temperature in February reaches 2° C only in the south and southwest; it is below— 1° C over the rest of the sea. The temperature rises in August to 5–6° C in the north and 9–10° C in the south. Influenced by river waters and the melting of ice, the sea’s salinity is considerably lower than that of the ocean—32.0–32.5 parts per thousand (‰), reaching 33‰ In the south. In coastal regions, salinity decreases to 28–30‰. In the subsurface layer of the northern part of the Bering Sea, the temperature is -1.7°C and the salinity reaches 33‰. In the southern part, the temperature is 1.7° C and the salinity 33.3‰ and greater at depths of 150 m; in the layer from 400 to 800 m, the figures are over 3.4° C and over 34.2‰ respectively. At the bottom the temperature is 1.6° C and the salinity is 34.6‰.

For most of the year the Bering Sea is covered with floating ice, which begins to form in September and October in the north. During February and March nearly the entire surface is covered with ice, which is carried along the Kamchatka Peninsula into the Pacific Ocean. The phenomenon of “phosphorescence of the sea” is characteristic of the Bering Sea.

In correspondence to the difference in hydrologic conditions between the northern and southern parts of the Bering Sea, there are Arctic forms of flora and fauna in the north, and boreal forms in the south. The south is inhabited by 240 species of fish. Particularly numerous are flatfish (flounder and halibut) and salmon (humpback salmon, Siberian salmon, and king salmon). There are many mussels, barnacles, polychaetes, bryozoans, octopuses, crabs, shrimps, and so forth. Sixty species of fish live in the north, mainly cod. The mammals characteristic of the Bering Sea are fur seals, Kamchatka beavers, seals, sea hares, common seals, Steller’s sea lions, gray whales, humpback whales, sperm whales, and others. Birds are abundant (murre, auk, Alca arctica, seagull-kittiwakes, and others); they live in “seashore colonies.” There is intensive whaling, primarily of the sperm whale, in the Bering Sea; there is fishing and hunting of sea animals (the fur seal, Kamchatka beaver, seal, etc.). The Bering Sea has great transportation value for the USSR as a link in the northern sea route. The main ports are Provideniia (USSR) and Nome (USA).


Shliamin, B. A. Beringovo moria. Moscow, 1958.
Ivanenkov, V. N. Gidrokhimiia Beringova mona. Moscow, 1964.
Dobrovol’skii, A. D., and B. S. Zalogin. Moría SSSR. Moscow, 1965.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Bering Sea

[′ber·iŋ ′sē]
A body of water north of the Pacific Ocean, bounded by Siberia, Alaska, and the Aleutian Islands.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Bering Sea

a part of the N Pacific Ocean, between NE Siberia and Alaska. Area: about 2 275 000 sq. km (878 000 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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