The Beaufort Sea coast is low lying and subject to considerable scouring by ice and EROSION by storm surges. The Canadian shelf and the Yukon/Alaskan shelf form the southern boundary of the Beaufort Sea, but they have significantly different widths and alignments. The Canadian shelf is approximately 110 km wide and runs northeast on a bearing of 52º, whereas the Alaskan shelf is about 50 km wide and runs east-southeast at 105º. A major submarine canyon, Mackenzie Trough, cuts the shelf east of HERSCHEL ISLAND. From the edge of the shelf (depth approximately 80 m) the bottom deepens fairly rapidly to 3500 m, with the main Canada Basin to the north being close to 4000 m at its deepest.
The MACKENZIE RIVER plays a dominant role in the regional oceanography of the southeastern Beaufort Sea. Annually, about 300 km3 of freshwater and 85 million tonnes of sediment pass through the Mackenzie Delta to the Canadian Beaufort shelf. Northwesterly winds, enhanced by the effect of Earth's rotation, cause the sediment-laden Mackenzie River plume to turn eastward along with the general easterly offshore flow, while easterly winds tend to reverse this flow.
Inshore currents in the ice-free zone in summer are variable and dominated by alternating northwesterly and easterly winds. Farther offshore, in the ice-covered region, the general Beaufort Sea gyre takes over in the form of a westerly flow. The water is typically Arctic Ocean water, low in temperature and salinity, but a Pacific influence is discernible, originating in the Bering Sea and reflected in the fauna, which includes Pacific HERRING and straying salmon. Tides are mainly semidiurnal, with a small range from 0.3 to 0.5 m.
The region is rich in seabirds and marine mammals in summer and is an important breeding ground and migration staging area. The general level of biological production is fairly high, subarctic rather than arctic, and seals and whales form an important element in the indigenous economy.
Exploration for oil and natural gas on the Canadian shelf began with seismic tests in the late 1960s, and the first well was drilled in 1973. There was a brief period of production in 1986 when Gulf Canada Ltd (now GULF CANADA RESOURCES LIMITED) produced 50 400 m3 of oil from the Amauligak field and marketed it to Japan. Exploration continues with recent leases of sites in deeper water at the shelf break and over the continental slope. These sites will require floating drill rigs and, therefore, dependable protection from the forces of the Arctic pack ice in order to prevent oil spills.
Author M.J. DUNBAR, EDDY C. CARMACK and WILLIAM J. WILLIAMS
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Polar Commission
The website for the Canadian Polar Commission. Check out the latest news and research initiatives in the polar region of North America. Click on "Northern Research Facilities" for an interactive map of facilities in Canada's North.
Northern People, Northern Knowledge
An exceptional collection of rare film clips, photographs and documents from the controversial Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913-1918, the first multi-disciplinary scientific expedition to the Canadian Arctic. From the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
History of Oil and Gas in the NWT
Historical overview of petroleum exploration in the Northwest Territories. Focuses on oil activity in the Norman Wells region, the Mackenzie Delta, the Beaufort Sea, and the Liard Plateau. Also mentions the Canol agreement signed by US and Canada during World War II. A Government of the Northwest Territories website.
Canada's Evolving Offshore Oil and Gas Industry
This superb site features exceptional illustrations and photographs of the latest technology used in drilling for oil and gas offshore. Also covers the history of offshore drilling, an overview of related environmental issues, and more. From the Canadian Centre for Energy Information.
Research boosts Canada's Arctic claim
A news article about scientific research that can support Canada's claims for extended undersea jurisdiction in the Western Arctic hinge. A canada.com website.
What is Permafrost?
A description of the characteristics of "permafrost" from the website for the International Permafrost Association.
Pingo Canadian Landmark
The Parks Canada website for the Pingo Canadian Landmark,located on the shore of the Beaufort Sea, 137 kilometers north of the town of Inuvik, Northwest Territories. The park protects the pingo landforms that rise out of the flat tundra in this region.
Oceans North Canada
This website examines conservation strategies that address the impact of climate change in the Arctic. Programs include identification of marine conservation areas, land claims agreements, fisheries management plans, ecosystem studies, and related initiatives. Features maps and striking photographs of local landscapes.
The Mackenzie Gas Project
The website for the Mackenzie Gas Project, a proposed 1,196-kilometre natural gas pipeline system along the Mackenzie Valley in the Northwest Territories which will connect northern onshore gas fields with North American markets. Click on the interactive map to view the pipeline's route.
Beaufort Sea commercial fishing banned
A CBC News story about the federal government and the western Arctic Inuvialuit people agreeing to declare commercial fishing off-limits in the Beaufort Sea.