White Sea

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White Sea,

Rus. Beloye More, c.36,680 sq mi (95,000 sq km), NW European Russia, an inlet of the Barents Sea. Its northern section, opening into the Barents Sea between the Kola and Kanin peninsulas, is connected with the southern body of the sea by a narrow strait c.100 mi (160 km) long and 30 to 35 mi (48–56 km) wide. Kandalashka Bay, in the southern section, is the deepest part of the sea (1,115 ft/340 m). The Mezen, the Northern Dvina, and the Onega rivers empty into large bays of the White Sea. The Solovetski Islands lie at the entrance to Onega Bay. Near the mouth of the Northern Dvina is Arkhangelsk (Archangel), the chief port. A canal system (140 mi/225 km long) connects the White Sea, at Belomorsk, with the Baltic Sea, at St. Petersburg. Icebreakers keep the major sections of the sea open in winter. There are lumber exports, fisheries (herring and cod), and seal herds. The White Sea was known by the people of Novgorod in the 11th cent. and was significant in the 16th cent. as the only sea outlet for Muscovite trade. In the early 1990s it was revealed that the Soviet navy had been using the sea as a dumping ground for its spent nuclear reactors.

White Sea


an inland sea of the Arctic Ocean on the northern shores of the European USSR. North of the Gorlo Straits, the northern part of which is called Voronka, the White Sea joins the Barents Sea. Their border follows a line between Kanin Nos Cape and Sviatoi Nos Cape. The area of the White Sea is about 90,000 sq km. Its average depth is 60 m; its greatest depth, 330 m (in the northeastern part of Kandalaksha Bay). Its important bays are the Kandalaksha, Onega, Dvina, and Mezen’. Important islands in the White Sea are the Solovetskie, Morzhovets, and Mud’iugskii. The northwestern shores of the sea are high and steep; the southeastern shores, gently sloping and low. The rivers flowing into the White Sea include the Severnaia Dvina, Mezen’, Onega, Vyg, Niva, Umba, Varzuga, and Ponoi.

The White Sea is a shelf sea whose present basin is a continental shelf depression rising on the slope of the crystalline Baltic Shield. The floor of the sea has a very broken relief. The Kandalaksha depression, with sharply outlined edges is located in the northwestern part of the sea. To its south is an elevation that is obviously of fault origin, the basis of the Solovetskie Islands. Onega Bay has a number of small underwater rises. Underwater sandbars formed by tidal currents are characteristic of the Gorlo and Voronka straits, as well as Mezen’ Bay. The floor deposits on the major part of the sea and Dvina Bay are silt and sandy silt; in Kandalaksha and Onega bays and in the northern part of the sea, sandy and rocky soils predominate. Often, glacial deposits are exposed on the bottom of the sea (particularly near the shore). Like the Baltic Sea, with which it is historically closely connected, the White Sea depression was filled with ice during the last Ice Age. Only in the Anthropogenic period (Yoldia phase), when the edge of the glaciers receded to the northwest, was the depression flooded by seawater.


The climate of the White Sea is transitional, from polar maritime to temperate continental. The average temperature of the air in January is from -9° to -13° C; in July, from 8° to 15° C. Southwest winds prevail in winter; northeastern winds, in summer. Cloudiness in the course of a whole year is great (7–8 points), and fogs are common. The total annual precipitation decreases from the south (529 mm, in Onega) to the northeast (282 mm, in Kanin Nos). The surface water temperature in the summer is from 6.9° C (in the Voronka and Gorlo straits and in Onega Bay) to 15° C (in the central part). When ice appears in the winter, the temperature is from -1.3° to -1.7° C in the center of the sea and -0.5° to -0.7° C in the bays. The salinity of the water in the Voronka Straits is 34.0–34.5 parts per thousand (°/oo); in the Gorlo Straits, 30.5°/oo; and in the central parts, 24–26°/oo. Ice forms in the White Sea in October or November and lasts until May or June.

The surface currents in the open sea are weak and inconstant, with a speed of less than 1 km/hr. In the bays the speed of the currents rises significantly. A constant exchange of water occurs between the White Sea and the Barents Sea through the Voronka and Gorlo straits. There the tidal currents have great importance. The tides are regular; they occur at 12-hour intervals and are from 1 m (in the south) to 10 m (in Mezen’ Bay). The deep waters of the White Sea (deeper than 100 m) are distinguished by constant temperatures (-1.4°C) and salinity (30°/oo). They are formed in the winter in the process of cooling and turbulent mixing in the Gorlo Straits.

The fauna of the White Sea includes relicts of the cold Yoldia (arctic forms) and warm Litorina (boreal forms) phases. The fauna on the bottom of the sea includes 720 species. There are more than 60 species of fish and five species of sea mammals (not counting occasional transients).

The White Sea was known to the people of Novgorod in the 11th century. The region’s wealth of fur and sea animals and the convenience of maritime connections assured its development. At that time trade connections by river routes had already been established between the peoples settled on the shores of the Caspian and White seas. Russian colonies appeared on the shores of the White Sea. The oldest is Kholmogory.

From the end of the 15th to the beginning of the 18th century, the White Sea was the most important sea route connecting Russia with Western Europe. The transportation role of the White Sea declined somewhat at the beginning of the 18th century in connection with the foundation of St. Petersburg and Russia’s use of the Baltic Sea. In the 1920’s a significant part of maritime transportation began to be carried on through the ice-free port of Murmansk in the Barents Sea.

The first hydrographic information about the White Sea dates from the mid-16th century. Detailed works of surveying and sounding were completed between 1827 and 1832 by the Russian scientist M. F. Reineke, who compiled and published the Atlas of the White Sea and made a hydro-graphic description of the sea. Regular meteorological observations in the White Sea began in 1840. Since the beginning of the 20th century hydrologic observations have been conducted. The expeditionary exploration of the White Sea began in the second half of the 19th century. During these expeditions deepwater hydrologic and biological observations were carried out. The first comprehensive investigations of the deepwater part of the sea were completed between 1891 and 1902 under the leadership of N. M. Knipo-vich. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century a detailed hydrographic survey of the White Sea was done. After the October Revolution comprehensive investigations of the nature of the White Sea were furthered by special expeditions and constant biological and hydro-meteorological stations, observatories, and scientific institutes.

The White Sea has great significance for transportation. It connects economic regions in the northern European USSR with ports in Asian parts of the USSR and foreign states. The large ports of the White Sea are Arkhangel’sk, Belomorsk, Onega, Mezen’, Kem’, Kandalaksha, and Umba. Wood, timber, coal, and salt predominate in the freight turnover. The White Sea is connected to the Baltic by the Baltic-White Sea Canal and to the Azov, Black, and Caspian seas by the V. I. Lenin Volgo-Baltiiskii water route. The catching of seals and herring dominates the maritime industries. An algae industry, particularly agar-bearing algae, is developing.


Kuznetsov, V. V. Beloe more i biologicheskie osobennosti ego flory i fauny. Moscow-Leningrad, 1960.


White Sea

an almost landlocked inlet of the Barents Sea on the coast of NW Russia. Area: 90 000 sq. km (34 700 sq. miles)