The Eastern Arctic Seas Encyclopedia

2016 Edition
| Editors: Igor S. Zonn, Andrey G. Kostianoy, Aleksandr V. Semenov

Chukchi Sea, History of Exploration

Reference work entry

Chukchi Sea, History of Exploration – in the seventeenth century, Russian merchants, industrialists, and service class people came to some stretches of the eastern seas of the Arctic Ocean and began exploring its coastline. Polar seamen traveled most of all to develop trade, hunting, and fishing. Sea exploration was out of question then. In the summer of 1648, Semyon Dezhnev steered all along the northern shores of the Chukchi Peninsula and was the first to double the easternmost cape of Asia. In 1728, the ship “St. Gavriil” (under the command of A. Chirikov and V. Bering) entered the strait (later named the Bering Strait) coming as high as 67018′N. The expedition made first hydrological observations. An enterprise, most known for its scientific results, among many other expeditions hereafter was the one under J. Billings and G. Sarychev that conducted extensive research (1791) in the Chukchi Sea. As the result of this endeavor, the first accurate map of the Chukchi land in Northeast Asia and Alaska was drawn.

In 1816, the brig “Rurik” in command of Lieutenant O.E. Kotzebue entered the Bering Strait coasting the northwest shores, and he discovered a bay named after him. In 1820, expeditions of M.N. Vasilyev and G.S. Shishmarev on the vessels “Otkrytiye” and “Blagonamerennyi” operated in the Chukchi Sea and executed a survey of the northern coast of Alaska. In 1821, M. Vasilyev retried to find the Northwest Passage, but he sailed as far along the Alaska coast as 70013′N. In 1821, the Admiralty Department organized an expedition led by Lieutenant P.F. Anjou (the Yana team) and Lieutenant F.P. Wrangel (the Kolyma team) that were active up to 1824. The Kolyma team had to “identify the position of Cape Shelagsky, run a survey of the coast to the east of it, and by that, make final of the connection between Asia and America.”

In 1821–1823, F. Wrangel led a dog sled expedition that watched magnetic declination and made meteorological and ice observations. Writing about his voyage, F. Wrangel depicted once and again ice conditions at different seasons and gave their first scientific description. Also, it was he who put forward a valid assumption that there was a large island (named after him later, in 1867) in the north of the sea and marked its approximate location on the map to the north of Cape Shelagsky.

In 1826, the British Admiralty sent an expedition under F. Beechey that surveyed the northern coast of Alaska, sailing along the southern coast of the Chukchi Sea up to Point Barrow. He was the first to draw Diomede Islands in the Bering Strait correctly on the map. In 1838, exploring the Chukchi Sea, A.F. Kashevarov traveled in skin boats (bidarrahs) along the coast and surveyed it 30 miles farther than Point Barrow, the extreme point attained by Captain F. Beechey.

In 1849, British captains H. Keller and T. Moore took their voyage on HMS “Herald” and HMS “Plover” to discover Herald Island and make the first deep water hydrological station in the Chukchi Sea for water temperature measurements at various depths.

Managers of the governing board of the Russian-American Company composed largely of naval officers that paid great attention to geographic research with the intention to facilitate seafaring and, therefore, enhance knowledge about geography of that part of the world. In 1851, the Company created “Mercator’s Chart of the Bering Strait and the Adjacent Part of the Arctic Sea.” The map was generated in the wake of voyages of the British vessels that went on a mission to find Sir John Franklin.

In 1855, Americans John Rogers and Thomas W. Long on the whaler “Nile” undertook expeditions and confirmed ad oculos assumptions of F. Wrangel about the island named after him (1867). The voyage of George W. De Long, a US Navy officer, on the ship USS “Jeannette” (1879–1881) ended tragically. In 1878–1879, Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld crossed the Chukchi Sea on the ship “Vega” passing the winter by Kolyuchin Island.

In 1880, US Captain Calvin L. Hooper on the USRC “Thomas Corwin” carried out a number of surveys and observations on currents and water temperature in the Ch.S. Next year, an expedition on the same ship was the first to land on Wrangel Island (US explorers named it “New Columbia” and collected botanic samples and other pieces of natural history).

In 1910–1915, the Russian Admiralty organized a hydrographic expedition on the icebreaking steamers “Taymyr” and “Vaygach” to traverse the Northern Sea Route from the east of the Arctic to the west. On its voyage the enterprise performed the first oceanographic transect in the Ch.S. to the north of Cape Shelagsky and surveyed the northern coast of Chukotka known only from sketches by Billings, Wrangel, and Nordenskiöld. In 1913–1914, the Canadian Arctic Expedition under the command of the American Captain Robert Bartlett on the “Karluk” obtained abundant data on ice drift in the north of the Ch.S. The ship and almost half of its crew tragically died to the north of Wrangel Island. In 1920–1921, navigating through the Northern Sea Route, the Norwegian Expedition led by Roald Amundsen and H. Sverdrup on the ship “Maud” overwintered near Cape Serdtse-Kamen in the Ch.S.

In 1922–1924, an expedition under B.V. Davydov on the vessel “Krasny Oktyabr” was active in the Ch.S. Captain P.G. Milovzorov led a series of freight voyages over the Ch.S. into the mouth of the Kolyma, to the shores of Chukotka, and Wrangel Island (1911–1928).

However, the period of extensive and regular Ch.S. exploration started in 1931–1932, after the icebreaker “A. Sibiryakov” had crossed the Northern Sea Route in a single navigation. Back then, at the outset of developing and building up infrastructure of the Northern Sea Route, Soviet polar explorers established a network of polar stations in the Ch.S. and performed consistent oceanographic research missions and observations on ice mode of the sea by means of coastal stations and ice reconnaissance.

In 1932, the State Hydrology Institute arranged an expedition on the ship “Dalnevostochnik” that studied hydrological regime of the Southern Ch.S. In 1933, the same voyage was made on the trawler “Krasnoarmeets.” G.E. Ratmanov led both expeditions.

Scientific and research missions were carried out on the icebreaker “F. Litke” (1929–1934) and the steamship “Chelyuskin” (1933–1934). After the wreck of the “Chelyuskin,” participants of the enterprise, the so-called Schmidt Camp, landed on ice and made hydrological and oceanographic observations summed up in “The Regime of the Chukchi Sea” (1938) by Yakov Gakkel and Pavel Khmyznikov. Meteorological stations significantly increased in number in the northern coast of the Chukchi Peninsula after the crash of the “Chelyuskin.”

In 1934, the icebreaker “Krasin” (scientific operations headed by N.I. Evgenov) was engaged in extensive hydrological work in the part of the Ch.S. to the south of the Cape Schmidt – Wrangel Island – Herald Island – Icy Cape (Alaska) line. The expedition made a course survey and geological research. This mission made valuable contribution to the knowledge of the Ch.S. The following year, the “Krasin” was also a platform for important scientific research in the Ch.S. under G.E. Ratmanov and went as far to the north of Wrangel Island as 73030′N. Here, waters containing elements from the Atlantic Ocean were found at a depth of 100–120 m.

In 1938, hydrological exploration was carried out by the survey ship “Okhotsk” and in 1939 – the icebreaking steamer “Malygin.” In 1943–1944, a voyage under the command of Y.A. Borindo made comprehensive marine survey down the coast of the Bering Strait to Kolyuchinskaya Bay.

In the postwar period (after 1945), icebreakers took part in the exploration of the Arctic as before. The East Oceanographic Expedition on the icebreaker “Severny Polyus” set out from Vladivostok in July, 1946 was the first major sea mission. In August, the icebreaker reached 73044′N, the record latitude for free floating vessels in the Ch.S. Through comprehensive studies the expedition improved bathymetric maps of the Chukchi and East Siberian seas, determined circulatory water motion in the east of the East Siberian Sea that affects the movement of the Ayon Ice Massif, and proved Atlantic water intrusion into the East Siberian and Chukchi Seas. An aerostat was employed for meteorological observations in the Arctic environment for the first time.

After the Great Patriotic War (1941–1945), Hydrographic Enterprise of the USSR Ministry of Marine was in charge of hydrographic operations performed in the littoral sea for many years. In 1964–1965, ships of the Soviet Pacific Fleet made detailed survey of the bottom shape and seabed as well as hydrological observations in the Bering Strait and to the north of it.

In 1969, the expeditionary unit of the First Pacific Oceanographic Expedition together with the Polar Expedition organized by Scientific-Research Institute of Geology of the Arctic resumed integrated geophysical research on the ice. In 1978–1981, polar northeast missions under P.P. Shirshov Institute of Oceanology of the USSR Academy of Sciences went on to the northeast Ch.S. and studied deposition of sediments in the northeastern part of Beringia. It was confirmed that terrigenous discharge comes from Alaska via the Bering Strait of the Ch.S. Besides, a full range of geological and geomorphological investigations was conducted in the Bering Sea and adjacent regions. In 1984, the NOAA ship “Surveyor” carried out geological study in the Ch.S. In 1985–1986, the oceanographic research vehicle “Aleksey Chirikov” executed an integrated oceanographic (hydrographic, geophysical, hydrological, meteorological) survey in the south Ch.S.

In the end of the 1980s – beginning of the 1990s, comprehensive studies of ecosystems in the Bering and Chukchi seas were conducted under Yuri Izrael, a Soviet and Russian scientist and member of the Academy of Sciences, and summed up in the book Study of Ecosystems of the Bering and Chukchi Seas edited by Y.A. Izrael and A.V. Tsyban and published in 1992.

In 2007, USCGC “Healy” embarked on a large-scale scientific research mission – an acoustic survey and seafloor mapping of the US northern portion of the Ch.S. – “to better understand its morphology and the potential for including this area within the USA extended continental shelf under the UN Convention on Law of the Sea.” This mission was part of the work done by closed Interagency Task Force headed by Larry Mayer that had been performing charting and seismic survey of the seabed in the Arctic since 2004 in preparation of the US claim to UN for jurisdiction of the additional area of the Arctic shelf.

In 2008, Canada and the USA made a joint cruise to map the sea area 400–600 miles north of the Alaska coast in the Ch.S. The expedition collected data on large reserves of oil and gas deep in the Arctic Ocean and obtained information required for future delimitation of the continental shelf to the north of Alaska. This entails mostly 3D mapping of the seabed in the vicinity of the Ch.S.

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