Frequently Asked Questions

What is the name of the strait that separates North America from Asia?
The Bering Strait separates North America and Asia.

How wide is Bering Strait? What is the shortest distance from the USA and Siberia?
The shortest distance from the USA and Siberia is 55 miles across Bering Strait from Cape Prince of Wales in Alaska to Cape Dezhnev in Russia.  The Diomede Islands lie en route, the larger island owned by Russia.

Can I walk or drive across Bering Strait in winter?
It is not advisable to cross Bering Strait at any time, especially by walking or driving.  Air temperatures in the region often are well below freezing, and the elements are quite brutal.  Because of tidal and gravity currents, open water is the strait is rough. During fall through spring, sea ice appears in both a smooth form and rough form, so piloting a vehicle over it is not very feasible.  Because the territory on either side of the strait is controlled by different nations, special diplomatic permission is required to enter Russia from the US, and vice versa.

Where can I find a web-interactive map of the North Pacific Ocean?
MSN's is a good source.

What kind of income do deckhands on crabbers make? Want to speak with teachers employed with the Bering Strait School District? Need info on companies that operate crab boats on the Bering Sea?
Visit the State of Alaska and Seafood and Fishing Jobs in Alaska websites for seafood and job questions.

What separates the Bering Sea from the Sea of Okhotsk?
The Kamchatka Peninsula separates the Bering Sea from the Sea of Okhotsk.

What is the closest town to Cape Dezhnev in Siberia?
The closest village is called Chukchi. It seems to be deserted now.

Does the Bering Sea touch the United States?  If yes, where?
Yes, the Bering Sea does touch the United States. Alaska is the 49th state in the union, and the Bering Sea touches the west coast of Alaska. You might also be interested to know that the shortest distance from the USA and Asia is 55 miles across Bering Strait from Cape Prince of Wales in Alaska to Cape Dezhnev in Russia. The Diomede Islands lie en route.

What is the most eastern point of Russia?
Cape Dezhnev on the Chukchi Peninsula is the easternmost point on Russia's mainland.  Big Diomede Island, some 20 miles east of Cape Dezhnev in Bering Strait is the easternmost land owned by Russia. 

What or who is the Bering Sea named after?
The Bering Sea is named after Vitus Bering, a Danish explorer. You can also check out the Horsens Museum for more information.

What is the distance between Tokyo and Juneau?
It is estimated at 5,500 miles. 

Which way does the North Pacific Ocean turn?
In the Northern Hemisphere, the spinning Earth pushes currents to the right. This is due to the Coriolis effect, which is a result of the earth’s rotation deflecting the flow of air and water. So, Pacific Ocean currents generally flow northward along the Asian coast, turn eastward to cross the Pacific at high latitude, then flow southward along the west coast of North America.

Are there corals in cold water?
Yes, there are corals in the North Pacific Ocean. The reefs consists of only one type of hard coral – Lophelia. This coral grows slowly as it does not contain zooxanthellae (tiny plants) that provide extra food for growth.

How long is the Aleutian Islands chain?
The Aleutian Islands extend from mainland Alaska in a six hundred-mile long chain. They appeared after rock melted deep down in the Aleutian Trench, then bobbed up through the crust beyond the trench to build a curved row of volcanic islands.  The Commander Islands continue the arc on the Asian side of the Pacific.

How did the Hawaiian Islands form?
In the North Pacific Ocean, hundreds of islands formed in a straight line above a fixed hot spot in the earth's mantle. The Hawaiian Islands emerged one by one as pulses of molten rock from the hot spot punched up through the ocean plate moving overhead.

When were hydrothermal vents discovered?
Hydrothermal vents were discovered in the 1970s. These vents pour out super-heated water filled with minerals – known as “black smoke” – and are powered by volcanic activity. Bacteria thrive on the minerals and provide food for many strange animals that live around the vents. Other vent animals prey on each other. Thus the whole community survives without getting any energy from plants and sunlight.

How do birds, fish, and whales know which way is home?
Birds, fish, and whales may all be able to sense the Earth’s magnetic field and use it to guide their way. Birds can also navigate using the Sun and stars. By traveling far, animals can feed in one area but breed in a much safer spot.

How much of the earth’s water is in the oceans?
There are 326 million cubic miles of water on earth. Ninety-seven percent of the earth’s water is in the oceans. Two percent is in glaciers and ice caps at the two Poles. One percent is divided among the world’s lakes, rivers, groundwater, soil moisture, and water vapor in the air. Seventy-one percent of the Earth’s surface is covered with water.

What is the biggest ocean in the world?
The Pacific Ocean is the biggest ocean in the world. It’s larger than the three oceans, Atlantic, Indian, and Arctic, put together.

What’s the difference between a sea and an ocean?
Oceans are the largest uninterrupted expanses of water. Seas are smaller lobes of the ocean that are partly surrounded by land.

How deep is the ocean?
The ocean is 3.7 km deep on average. The deepest parts of the ocean are the abyssal trenches. The deepest of these is the Mariana Trench near the Philippines in the North Pacific Ocean running 11 km deep.

What is the division of the ocean floor?
The ocean floor is divided into three segments: the continental shelf, the continental slope, and the deep-ocean or basin floor.

What is a continental shelf?
A continental shelf is a zone just offshore of an island or continent, stretching from the low-tide line to where the ocean floor begins to slope steeply down toward the basin.

What is a continental slope?
A continental slope is a zone beyond the continental shelf, where the ocean bottom begins a fairly steep descent towards the deeper water.

What are ocean zones, and how are they divided?
Ocean zones are defined layers of ocean depth.

Why is the sea salty?
The seawater is salty because it has salt (sodium chloride) in it. Most of the salt comes from rocks on land. Rain washes the salt into rivers, which carry it to the sea. Most of the Earth’s water is salty. Only a tiny part is fresh water that we can drink. Seawater is 96.5% pure water. Salt makes up 2.9% in the form of sodium (1%) and chlorine (1.9%). The remaining 0.6% of seawater consists of various other elements.

What is a trench?
A trench is a deep valley in the seabed.

How are guyots and seamounts formed?
The North Pacific Ocean has curved rows of mountainous islands on the landward sides of ocean trenches. Here, an ocean plate and its sediment plunged in the Earth’s mantle. Some of the rocks melted deep down beneath the surface. The light ingredients then rose through the mantle’s dense rock burning holes through the crust and bobbing up to build a volcanic island arc. Volcanic islands drift away from a hot spot sink as their weight depresses the plate they rest on. Then waves chop off their tops. They become the flat-capped submarine peaks of guyots. Seamounts are islands that break the surface. Some of these submarine volcanoes rise thousands of feet and still do not emerge.

How are waves created?
Waves are generated by wind blowing across the ocean surface. Strong, long-lasting winds blowing over great distances create the biggest waves. When a wave nears land, its base catches on the seabed and slows, while the top part carries on, curls over, and crashes down as a breaker. Waves are also generated by other disturbances, such as earthquakes. Ocean currents, flowing like underwater winds, move water around the oceans in giant circulations. Some currents are warm while others are cold, and this has a great influence on our weather.

What are tides?
Tides are the regular rise and fall of the ocean’s surface caused by the gravitational pull from the Sun and the Moon. The Moon is nearer to the Earth, and so it exerts a stronger pull. The Moon moves around the Earth, and when the Sun, Moon, and Earth are in line their gravities act together. This causes very high and low tides – the “spring” tides. When the Sun and Moon lie at right angles, the pull is weaker and there are smaller tides – the “neap” tides.

How are whirlpools created?
Whirlpools or eddies are created when strong tidal currents meet and clash. This usually happens where the water is channeled through narrow passages between islands and land masses, or when two water masses with different temperatures and/or salinities meet.

What are currents?
Currents are river of water traveling faster than the water around them, moving from one part of the world to another.

What are gyres?
Gyres are surface currents traveling in circles. The gyres in the North Pacific Ocean run clockwise.

What is sand made of?
Sand is made of tiny chips of rock and seashell.

What is a water cycle?
A water cycle is a continuous movement of water from the oceans up through the air to the clouds in the form of vapor, down to land or water as rain or snow, then back to the oceans through streams and rivers.

What keeps the sea currents flowing?
Temperature and salinity affect water density. Cold, salty water is denser, so it sinks below warmer surface water. The differences in density keep sea currents flowing.

What is a tsunami?
A tsunami is a series of giant sea waves created by shock waves from an underwater earthquake and landslide. The violent shaking of the seabed creates fast-moving waves that radiate outward. Racing toward the coast, waves pile into one another when they reach shallow water and a huge, destructive tsunami is formed. The term tsunami is a Japanese word meaning “harbor wave”.
  *See more tsunami questions answered by PMEL Tsunami Scientists.

What is the difference between a hurricane, a typhoon, and a cyclone?
They are all the same!  Formally, they are "severe tropical cyclones".  A hurricane is a tropical cyclone with wind speeds of 74 miles per hour (65 knots) or greater that occurs over the North Atlantic Ocean,  Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, or eastern Pacific Ocean off the west coast of Mexico. A typhoon is a hurricane that occurs over the western North Pacific Ocean or most of the South Pacific Ocean. A cyclone is a hurricane that occurs over the Indian Ocean.  Other names for hurricanes are taino (Haiti), cordonazo (Mexico), baguio (Philippines), and, in former times, willy-willy (Australia; now it refers to a dust devil, a much smaller-scaled wind phenomenon). The violent storm, sometimes called a cyclone, that occurs over the central United States, such as the storm in the "Wizard of Oz", is properly termed a tornado.

What is the smallest fish in the ocean?
The dwarf goby is the smallest fish in the ocean being the size of a fingernail.

What is the largest fish in the ocean?
The whale shark is the world’s biggest fish.

What is the longest fish in the ocean?
The oarfish is the longest fish in the ocean.

What is the biggest sea plant in the ocean?
The biggest sea plant is the giant kelp seaweed.  

What is the fastest fish in the ocean?
The fastest fish is the sailfish.

What is a nautical mile?
A nautical mile is a unit of length equal to 1852 m or 1.15 statute miles or 1 minute of latitude.

What is a knot?
One nautical mile per hour.

What is a fathom?
A measure of the depth of the ocean, equal to 6 feet or 1.8 m. 

What is atmospheric pressure?
Atmospheric pressure is the pressure exerted by the atmosphere as a result of gravitational force exerted on the column of air lying directly above. It is commonly measured in units of atmospheres (atm), 1 atm is equal to ~15 lb of force per sq in (~1 kg per sq cm). Sea-level pressure is that atmospheric pressure that occurs anywhere on Earth (actually or fictitiously) at an elevation equivalent to the level of the ocean surface.

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[Last updated: 2009-1-13]