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The Bering Strait Bridge Idea

The Bering Strait Bridge project comes up every now and then. The most recent reference is found in a Washington Times article. It mentions Sun Myung Moon proposing such project in rallies across the USA. The vision of crossing the Bering Sea by car or train fits into his plans to build a highway across the world.

But the idea isnít new at all, neither for the bridge nor the world highway. Even though no concrete plans have ever been formulated, more elaborate talks about these projects date back more than a century.

Does this all make any sense? Judge by yourself, here are some facts.

Where and what is the Bering Strait?

Click on the map to get a larger version

The Bering Strait is a stretch of water - 80 km wide at the narrowest point - that separates Alaska from Eastern Siberia. To the north of it lies the Arctic Ocean and to the south the Bering Sea.

(Note that on the map to the left north is at the bottom.)

(Cick on the map for a larger version.)

A few thousand years ago the area actually was above sea-level. More exactly, the sea-level was more than hundred meters below todayís level, because during the last ice age monumental glaciers in Canada and Greenland retained enough of the earthís water to lower the sea level that much.

During that time an area of dry land - called Beringa - existed between Alaska and Siberia. Beringa  reached more than 2000 km from the Arctic Ocean in the north until the eastern Aleutian islands in the south.


The Bering Land Bridge
(21,000 years ago)

Some theories on human migration suggest that the North American Indians entered the continent from Asia across that land bridge.

The area was probably not very fertile, unable to support large populations of animals or humans - if any. Only some shrub tundra-like vegetation existed and the climate was similar to that of Alaska today. If it wasnít covered with snow entirely, the landscape may have looked similar to this:


Alaskan tundra in spring
The Arctic winter lasts from November until May. Near the Arctic circle the ground may only thaw near the top during the short summer.


Frozen Bering Sea in Winter
During winter the ocean is freezes. At that time the Bering Strait can be crossed by foot.

When the glaciers began to melt at the end of the ice age the ocean levels rose and about 10,500 years ago the waters of the Pacific flooded across the land into the Arctic ocean. But even today the waters in the vicinity of the Bering Strait are only 30 - 50 meters deep. Due to the shallow waters the ocean freezes almost to the ground during winter. In that time Inuit people actually travel across to meet with relatives.

The vicinity of the two land masses on both sides and the relatively shallow waters make the idea of building a bridge here look a bit realistic. In addition the area is comfortably far away from the next tectonic plate, making earth quakes less of an issue. But that doesnít mean there are no problems left.

The History of the Idea

The idea of building a dry connection between Alaska and Siberia is not new at all. In 1890 William Gilpin, the first governor of the Colorado Territory, wrote of a Cosmopolitan Railway. His idea was to link the entire world via a system of railways. Only two years later a young engineer named Joseph Strauss, designer of more than 400 bridges, including the Golden Gate Bride, designed a crossing of the Bering Strait for his major thesis.

But no serious attempts were ever made to put such a concept into reality and discussions on the issue finally died off.

After the completion of the Alaska Highway in 1943 the concept received renewed interest as part of a larger vision for that highway project. The Alaska Highway today reaches from northeastern Brithish Columbia in Canada until Delta Junction, a small town 160 km south of Fairbanks, Alaska. Alaskans then envisioned the highway to be extended until the city of Nome in northwestern Alaska. At that time a tunnel project across the Bering Strait was proposed.



Delta Junction

No serious plans were conceived then and the Cold War did not help. But the tunnel project is still alive today. According to The Bering Strait Tunnel & Railroad Group website George Kumal a Czech born American engineer is currently in charge of the project. But also here, no serious plans about the technical implementation have surfaced yet.

In 1968 T.Y.Lin, a Chinese railway engineer proposed to build a 80 km bridge across the Bering Strait. He also proposed a bridge across the Strait of Gibraltar as part of a global vision. After the end of the Cold War discussion and speculations on bridging the Bering Strait by tunnel or bridge have picked up but still not serious plans exist to actually build one.

The costs are today estimated at just over 100 billion USD. The technical challenges are formidable but not impossible to meet. The Discovery Channel website has an animation about some issues around the bridge project.






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