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The Beaufort Sea (/ˈbfərt/; French: Mer de Beaufort) is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean,[4] located north of the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and Alaska, and west of Canada's Arctic islands. The sea is named after Sir Francis Beaufort, a hydrographer. The Mackenzie River, the longest in Canada, empties into the Canadian part of the Beaufort Sea west of Tuktoyaktuk, which is one of the few permanent settlements on the sea's shores.

The sea, characterized by severe climate, is frozen over most of the year. Historically, only a narrow pass up to 100 km (62 mi) opened in August–September near its shores, but recently due to climate change in the Arctic the ice-free area in late summer has greatly enlarged. Until recently, the Beaufort Sea was known as an important reservoir for the replenishment of Arctic sea ice.[5] Sea ice would often rotate

The Beaufort Sea (/ˈbfərt/; French: Mer de Beaufort) is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean,[4] located north of the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and Alaska, and west of Canada's Arctic islands. The sea is named after Sir Francis Beaufort, a hydrographer. The Mackenzie River, the longest in Canada, empties into the Canadian part of the Beaufort Sea west of Tuktoyaktuk, which is one of the few permanent settlements on the sea's shores.

The sea, characterized by severe climate, is frozen over most of the year. Historically, only a narrow pass up to 100 km (62 mi) opened in August–September near its shores, but recently due to climate change in the Arctic the ice-free area in late summer has greatly enlarged. Until recently, the Beaufort Sea was known as an important reservoir for the replenishment of Arctic sea ice.[5] Sea ice would often rotate for several years in the Beaufort Gyre, the dominant ocean current of the Beaufort Sea, growing into sturdy and thick multi-year ice.[6][7]

Claims that the seacoast was populated about 30,000 years ago have been largely discredited (see below); present population density is very low. The sea contains significant resources of petroleum and natural gas under its shelf, such as the Amauligak field. They were discovered in the period between the 1950s and 1980s, and since the latter part of that period their exploration has become the major human activity in the area. The traditional occupations of fishery and whale and seal hunting are practiced only locally, and have no commercial significance. As a result, the sea hosts one of the largest colonies of beluga whales, and there is no sign of overfishing. To prevent overfishing in its waters, the US adopted precautionary commercial fisheries management plan in August 2009.[8] In April 2011 the Canadian government signed a memorandum of understanding with the Inuvialuit as a first step in developing a larger ocean management plan.[9] The Canadian government announced in October 2014 that no new commercial fisheries in the Beaufort Sea will be considered until research has shown sustainable stocks that would be made available to Inuvialuit first.[10]

The Canadian government has set a new block of the Beaufort Sea off the Parry Peninsula in the Amundsen as a Marine Protected Area (MPA).[11] The protected area is set to protect species and habits for the Inuvialuit community.

Northstar Island, an artificial island northwest of Prudhoe Bay, is a site of oil and gas drilling

Bowhead whales were hunted in

Bowhead whales were hunted in the sea between 1888 and 1914. This practice stopped, first because of the decline in whale population and then because of government regulations, but resumed in the 1990s.[39]

The major settlements along the Beaufort Sea are Tuktoyaktuk (population 930 in 2009[40]) in Canada and Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Although Prudhoe Bay is permanently populated by only a few people, there are thousands of contract workers in the area employed on petroleum production at the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field, which is on the coastal lowland known as the North Slope. Artificial islands, such as Endicott and Northstar, have been raised near the shores in 1987 and 2001, respectively. The crude oil is transported through t

The major settlements along the Beaufort Sea are Tuktoyaktuk (population 930 in 2009[40]) in Canada and Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Although Prudhoe Bay is permanently populated by only a few people, there are thousands of contract workers in the area employed on petroleum production at the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field, which is on the coastal lowland known as the North Slope. Artificial islands, such as Endicott and Northstar, have been raised near the shores in 1987 and 2001, respectively. The crude oil is transported through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System to the southern port of Valdez.[3]

Fishing and sea hunting are practised by the local inhabitants and have no commercial value, especially after a US moratorium on commercial fishing of the Beaufort Sea, adopted in 2009.[3] Trapping of muskrat at the Mackenzie River delta was the main source of income for the Athabaskan First Nations peoples and Inuit during 1920–1960, but has since declined.[24]

The Beaufort Sea contains major gas and petroleum reserves beneath the seabed, a continuation of proven reserves in the nearby Mackenzie River and North Slope.[20] The Beaufort Sea was first explored for sub-shelf hydrocarbons in the 1950s and estimated to contain about 250 km3 (60 cu mi) of oil and 300,000 km3 (72,000 cu mi) of natural gas under its coastal shelf. Offshore drilling began in 1972; about 70 wells were set up by the 1980s[41] and 200 wells by 2000.[42] These activities resulted in dredging of about 46.5 million m3 of sea bottom soil, as well as discharge of drilling muds which contained barite, clay, caustic soda, and heavy metals zinc, copper, lead, chromium, cobalt, nickel, cadmium and mercury. About 50,400 m3 (1,780,000 cu ft) of oil was produced in 1986.[41]

A major gas field, named Taglu Gas Field, was discovered in the Mackenzie River delta in 1971,[43] followed by the Parson Lake field and Niglintgak field. The estimated gas reserves of these fields are 58,600 km3 (14,100 cu mi), 3

A major gas field, named Taglu Gas Field, was discovered in the Mackenzie River delta in 1971,[43] followed by the Parson Lake field and Niglintgak field. The estimated gas reserves of these fields are 58,600 km3 (14,100 cu mi), 35,400 km3 (8,500 cu mi) and 13,600 km3 (3,300 cu mi), respectively. Moreover, further into the sea from the Mackenzie delta lies the Amauligak field. This, the largest known oil deposit of the Beaufort Sea, was discovered in 1984, and is estimated to contain 37.3 km3 (8.9 cu mi) of oil and 38,500 km3 (9,200 cu mi) of gas. The development of these fields is hindered by their remote location. This problem was alleviated for Prudhoe Bay by constructing the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, but is limiting regular commercial production at Mackenzie River deposits.[42] For example, the Amauligak Project was started soon after the discovery of the field. In September 1985, the tanker Gulf Beaufort has transported 50,300,000 l (316,377 bbl) of crude oil to Japan, which was the first shipment of oil from the Arctic deposits.[44] However, the project has stalled after that.

In July 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management approved a plan to allow Eni, an Italian multinational oil and gas company, to drill four oil exploration wells on Spy Island, one of four artificial islands in the Beaufort Sea.[45]

Stan Rogers references the Beaufort Sea in his popular Canadian Folk Song Northwest Passage.

See also