Barents

The Barents Sea, named after Dutch navigator Willem Barents, is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean, and is bounded by the Kola Peninsula of Murmanskaya Oblast', the northern coast of Nenets Autonomous Okrug, the island of Novaya Zemlya, and loosely to the north by Franz Josef Land and Svalbard. Its marine borders are with the Kara Sea to the east and the Norwegian Sea to the west (see the map in Barents Region).

The sea overlies the north Russian continental shelf and is thus relatively shallow (10-100 m), with the seafloor sloping gently toward the central Arctic Ocean in the north and toward the Greenland-Norwegian Sea in the west, to depths of 200-300 m. West of Svalbard, the shelf ends and the ocean depth rapidly increases to more than one thousand meters. The Barents Sea has a total area of about 1.4 million square kilometers (540,000 square miles).

The Barents Sea is a major ocean front area, with waters meeting from the North Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic Ocean. Cold Arctic water in the form of sea ice enters the Barents Sea from the northeast, and warm Atlantic surface water (the Atlantic Drift current) enters from the Norwegian Sea in the west. The southern part of the sea, and the ports of Murmansk and Vard0 remain ice-free year round due to the warm Atlantic Drift current. Freshwater input to the sea is mainly from the Pechora River and the Kola River. The climate in the Barents Sea is much milder as compared to the continental climate conditions on the east Siberian shelves, with warm air masses from cyclones (atmospheric low-pressure systems) from the Greenland-Norwegian Sea passing westward through the southern Barents Sea.

The Barents Sea has a very high biological productivity for such a high latitude (see Large Marine Ecosystems), and is an important feeding area for cod, capelin, haddock, redfish, and herring. Cod and capelin are major fishery resources exploited by both Norway and Russia. There is also a rich population of seabirds and marine mammals that feed on the dense phytoplankton blooms in spring and early summer. Large colonies of breeding seabirds are found along the coasts, particularly of Novaya Zemlya: a breeding population of 10-15 million seabirds has been estimated for the Barents Sea region as a whole. Common birds are fulmars, cormorants, Arctic terns, and brent geese. The ringed seal, bearded seal, walrus, and minke whale are all found at sea, and polar bears on Svalbard and Novaya Zemlya.

The Greater Barents Region is one of the most densely populated regions of the circumpolar Arctic, and has a large industrial base. Oil and gas accumulations are actively being explored in the northern Barents Sea off the Norwegian shelf, and oil and gas fields are being exploited in the Pechora basin offshore of Nenets Autonomous Okrug.

The Barents Sea has suffered persistent organic pollutant contamination and heavy metal discharge from chemical factories into Russian rivers, air pollution from industrial activities such as smelting, and radioactive contamination from dumped nuclear waste from Russia's Northern Fleet's ballistic-missile submarines from the 1960s to the 1980s. Nuclear tests were carried out on or near Novaya Zemlya between 1955 and 1990, and there is also a nuclear reactor on the Kola peninsula. Hydrocarbon spills from future offshore drilling and shipment of oil from terminals such as Varandei on the Nenets Autonomous Okrug shore also threaten commercial fisheries.

Gillian Lindsey

See also Arctic Ocean; Barents Region; Barents, Willem; Gas Exploration; Kara Sea; Murmanskaya Oblast'; Nenets Autonomous Okrug; Novaya Zemlya; Oil Exploration

Further Reading

Bergesen, Helge Ole, Arild Moe & Willy Ostreng, Soviet Oil and Security Interests in the Barents Sea, New York: St Martin's Press, 1987 National Oceanographic Data Center (US), Climatic Atlas of the Barents Sea 1998: Temperature, Salinity, Oxygen, Washington, District of Columbia: US Dept. of Commerce, National Oceanographic Data Center, 1998, http://www.nodc.noaa.gov/OC5/barsea/bardoc.html Tikhonov, Sergey, Konstantin Sjevljagin, Harald Loeng, Geir Wing Gabrielsen, Salve Dahle, Ole J0rgen L0nne & Roald S®tre (editors), Status Report on the Marine Environment of the Barents Region, The Joint Norwegian-Russian Commission on environmental cooperation, The working group on the marine environment of the Barents Region, 1997 World Wide Fund for Nature (The Barents Sea—A Sea of Opportunities), http://www.panda.org/downloads/arctic/bar-entsreport.pdf

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