Bering Strait

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Site of the Bering Strait Swim near the Arctic Circle
The 53-mile (85 km) Bering Strait (Russian: Берингов пролив, Beringov proliv), known to natives as Imakpik, is a sea strait located slightly south of the polar circle and stretches between Cape Dezhnev, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Russia, the easternmost point (169°43'W) of the Asian continent and Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, USA, the westernmost point (168°05'W) of the North American continent, with latitude of about 65°40'N, slightly south of the polar circle. The present US-Russia boundary in the strait, agreed to only by the USA, is 168°58'37"W. The name of this sea is sometimes spelled Behring in older books.

The Bering Strait has been the subject of scientific speculation that humans migrated from Asia to North America across a land bridge at a time when lower ocean levels–perhaps a result of glaciers locking up vast amounts of water–exposed a ridge beneath the ocean. This would have allowed humans to walk from Siberia to Alaska, thus populating North and South America.

From the perspective of solo open water swimmers, the Bering Strait is known as the short stretch of 2.2 miles between Little Diomede (USA) and Big Diomede (Russia). It was first swum by Lynne Cox of the United States in 1987 when she was pushed by currents and took 2 hours 6 minutes to swim the strait. Three other swimmers have successfully swum across the strait, including Joseph Oakes (with a wetsuit) of San Francisco, California, Marcos Diaz (with a wetsuit) of the Dominican Republic and Elena Guseva (without a wetsuit) from Berezniki, Russia in 1998.

It is also the site of the successful Bering Strait Swim relay from Russia to Alaska in August 2013, the World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year for the year 2013.

Contents

Geography and Science

The Bering Strait connects the Chukchi Sea (part of the Arctic Ocean) to the north with the Bering Sea (part of the Pacific Ocean) to the south. Although the Cossack Semyon Dezhnev passed by the strait in 1648, it is named after Vitus Bering, a Danish explorer who crossed the strait in 1728. Although considered incorrect spelling today the area is often found spelled as "Behring Strait" in some older texts.

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, the Russian and American sides are usually 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. There are a few roads around Nome, Alaska. Air and water are the main mode of travel. 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 (5,200 people) are the two areas located at the Bering Strait. These areas are also roadless.

Expeditions

Semyon Dezhnyov (1648) was the first recorded European to pass through the Bering Strait. Vitus Bering entered it in 1728. Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld in 1878/79 sailed along the complete northern coast of Siberia, thereby proving that there was no northern land bridge from Asia to North America.

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, and around 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). There was a film called "Curtain of Ice" that recorded part of the crossing.

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) They were soon arrested for not entering Russia through a border control.

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

Lynne Cox on the Bering Strait

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