Bering Strait

Bering Strait

Bering Strait, c.55 mi (90 km) wide, between extreme NE Asia and extreme NW North America, connecting the Arctic Ocean and the Bering Sea. It is usually completely frozen over from October to June. The Diomede Islands are in the strait. The narrowness of the strait makes it possible for small boats to cross from Chukchi Peninsula, NE Russia, to Seward Peninsula in Alaska. The strait is named for the Danish explorer Vitus Bering, who traversed it in 1728.

During the Ice Age, Alaska and Siberia were connected by land where the strait now is, and many archaeologists believe that ancestors of Native Americans crossed the land bridge to North America. Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, on the Seward Peninsula, is a remnant of the land bridge (see National Parks and Monuments, table). See also Americas, antiquity and prehistory of the.

The Bering Strait (Берингов пролив Beringov proliv) is a sea strait between Cape Dezhnev, Russia, the easternmost point (169°43' W) of the Asian continent and Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, the westernmost point (168°05' W) of the North American continent, with latitude of about 65° 40' north, slightly south of the polar circle.

Geography and Science

The Bering Strait is approximately wide, with an average depth of It connects the Chukchi Sea (part of the Arctic Ocean) in the north with the Bering Sea (part of the Pacific Ocean) in the south. Although the Cossack Semyon Dezhnev passed by the strait in 1648, it is named after Vitus Bering, a Danish-born Russian explorer who crossed the strait in 1728.

The land bridge that is assumed to have existed over the Bering Strait during the Ice Ages is known now as the Bering Land Bridge. Some scientists believe that so much water was stored as ice that the sea level dropped, exposing more land. Other scientists believe that during the ice age this strait was frozen over, and would have allowed humans and animals to cross.

Population

The area is sparsely populated. The Diomede Islands lie directly in the middle of the Bering Strait, and the village in Little Diomede has a school which is part of Alaska's Bering Strait School District. Because the International Date Line runs equidistant between the islands at a distance of 1.5km (1mi), the Russian and American sides are counted as falling on different calendar days, with Cape Dezhnev 21 hours ahead of the American side.

The area in the immediate neighborhood on the Alaskan side belongs to the Nome Census Area which has a population of 9,000 people. There is no road from the Bering strait to the main cities of Alaska. Air and water are the main mode of travel. There are a few roads around Nome. However there is no regular air connection across the strait, just a few summer charter flights. This is because of a Russian policy only to allow tourists in organized tours, and with special permit to everyone.

The Russian coast belongs to Chukotka Autonomous Okrug. Provideniya (4,500 people) and Chukotsky (5200 people) are the two areas located at the Bering Strait. These areas are also roadless.

Expeditions

In July 1989 a British Expedition, Kayaks Across The Bering Strait, completed the first sea kayak crossing of the Bering Strait from Wales, in Alaska, to Cape Dezhneva, Siberia. The four expedition members, Robert Egelstaff, Trevor Potts, Greg Barton and Peter Clark, kayaked from Nome up the Alaskan coast, round Cape Prince of Wales before crossing the Strait via the Diomede Islands. Having completed the crossing they continued north to Uelen, where they were welcomed by the Soviet Sports Committee and eventually returned to the UK via Moscow. This journey has been described as "The Everest of the Canoeing World" and was recorded in the film "Kayaking Into Tomorrow" (1989).

In 1998, Russian adventurer Dmitry Shparo and his son Matvey made the first known modern crossing of the frozen Bering Strait on skis.

In March 2006 Briton Karl Bushby and French American adventurer Dimitri Kieffer crossed the strait on foot, walking across a frozen 90 km (56 mile) section in 15 days. (BBC) (although they were soon arrested for not entering Russia through a border control.)

Actor Ewan McGregor said in an interview on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno that part of the inspiration for his Long Way Round motorcycle journey from London to New York was that, when viewed on a map, the gap between Russia and the USA across the Bering Strait was in fact very small. McGregor and his team ultimately crossed the strait with their motorcycles loaded onto a Magadan Airlines plane, flying from Magadan, Russia to Anchorage, Alaska.

In 1987 swimmer Lynne Cox swam the two miles (3 km) between the Diomede Islands from Alaska to the Soviet Union in 40 °F (+4 °C) water during the last years of the Cold War.

Bridge or tunnel

Suggestions have been made for the construction of a bridge, the Bering Strait bridge, between Alaska and Siberia. An alternative connection would be a tunnel underneath the strait, the TKM-World Link being the most recent such proposal. The construction of such a bridge or tunnel would face unprecedented engineering, political, and financial challenges, and to date, no government has authorized the start of any planning or construction.

Dam or threshold

In September 2008 a plan was published discussing a complete or partial close off of the Bering Strait, either by building a dam or a threshold, both possibly influecing sea ice conditions in the Arctic. The proposed Diomede Threshold would make use of the salinity gradient of water currents through the Bering Strait, allowing only relatively sweet waters from the Alaskan rivier Yukon to flow through the strait. The third option would be the St. Lawrence Dam connecting St. Lawrence Island, 300 kilometres south of the Bering Strait, to mainland Alaska and Siberia.

The "Ice Curtain" border

During the Cold War, the Bering Strait marked the border between the United States and the Soviet Union. The island of Big Diomede in the USSR was (and is) only 4 km (2.4 mi) from the island of Little Diomede in the USA. Traditionally, the indigenous peoples in the area had frequently crossed the border back and forth for "routine visits, seasonal festivals and subsistence trade", but were prevented from doing so during the Cold War. The border became known as the "Ice Curtain. In 1987, American swimmer Lynne Cox symbolically helped ease tensions between the two countries by swimming across the border, and was congratulated jointly by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.

References

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