Barents Sea

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Barents Sea

Barents Sea, arm of the Arctic Ocean, N of Norway and European Russia, partially enclosed by Franz Josef Land on the north, Novaya Zemlya on the east, and Svalbard on the west. Its waters are warmed by the remnants of the North Atlantic Drift, so that its ports, including Murmansk and Vardö, are ice-free all year. The sea was named for Willem Barentz, the Dutch navigator. The Barents Council was founded in 1993 by Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden to foster cooperation between countries in the region. The council has focused its efforts on improving infrastructure and cleaning up nuclear waste on Russia's Kola Peninsula.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Barents Sea


an outlying sea of the Arctic Ocean, bounded by the northern coast of Europe and Vaigach Island, Novaia Zemlia, Franz Josef Land, Spitsbergen, and Bear Island. In the west the Barents Sea borders on the Norwegian Sea, in the south on the White Sea, in the east on the Kara Sea, and in the north on the Arctic Ocean. The region of the Barents Sea located east of Kolguev Island is sometimes called the Pechora Sea. The area of the Barents Sea is 1,405,000 sq km, the average volume of water is 282,000 cu km, and the average depth is 200 m.

The shores of the Barents Sea are predominantly fjordlike, high, rocky, and strongly indented. Among the largest bays are Porsangerfjord, Varangerfjord, Motovka Bay, and Kola Bay. East of the Kanin Peninsula the shores are predominantly low and weakly indented. Here there are three large shallow bays—Cheshkaia guba, Pechora Bay, and Khaipudyrskaia guba—and several small inlets.

There are few islands within the limits of the Barents Sea—the largest is Kolguev Island. The largest rivers flowing into the Barents Sea are the Pechora and the Indiga.

The Barents Sea is located within the limits of the continental shelf, but, in contrast to other similar seas, the major portion of it has depths of 300–400 m, with an average depth of 229 m and a maximum of 600 m. The following regions of the Barents Sea are generally recognized: plains (the Central Plateau), rises (Central, Perseus—minimal depth 63 m), depressions (Central—maximum depth 386 m), and troughs (Western—maximum depth 600 m; Franz-Victoria—430 m; and others). The southern part of the bottom has a predominant depth of less than 200 m and is marked by a level floor.

The Barents Sea occupies the Barents Sea Platform of the Proterozoic-Late Cambrian age. The elevations of the floor are anteclises, and the depressions are syneclises. Among the smaller relief forms are the remains of ancient shorelines at depths of approximately 200 and 70 m and glacial denudation and glacial aggradation forms, as well as sandy ridges formed by strong tidal currents.

In the southern part of the Barents Sea, in the cover of benthic deposits, there is a predominance of sand, and in places, gravel and stone. On the rises in the central and northern parts of the sea are silty sand and sandy silt, and in the depressions, silt. An admixture of large fragmentary material is evident everywhere; this is related to the movement of ice and the occurrence of relict glacial deposits. The thickness of sediment in the northern and middle portions is less than 0.5 m. As a result, ancient glacial deposits on individual rises lie virtually on the surface. The slow rate of sedimentation—less than 30 mm per 1,000 years—is explained by the insignificant influx of terrigene material. Not one major river empties into the Barents Sea (with the exception of the Pechora, which leaves virtually all its alluvium within the limits of the Pechora estuary); the shores of the land are composed mainly of hard crystalline rock.

The climate of the Barents Sea is influenced by the warm Atlantic Ocean and the cold Arctic Ocean. The frequent incursions of warm Atlantic cyclones and cold arctic air determine the great variability of weather conditions. In the winter southwesterly winds prevail over the Barents Sea; in the spring and summer, northeasterlies. Storms are frequent. The mean air temperature in February varies from -25° C in the north to -4° C in the southwest. The mean August temperature is 0° C or 1° C in the north and 10° C in the southwest. Overcast weather prevails over the sea throughout the year. The annual quantity of precipitation varies from 250 mm in the north to 500 mm in the southwest.

The surface currents of the Barents Sea flow in a counterclockwise direction. Along the southern and eastern periphery, the Atlantic waters of the warm Nordkapp current (a branch of the Gulf Stream system) flow to the east and the north. The influence of this current can be traced to the northern shores of Novaia Zemlia. The northern and western parts of the circulation are formed by local and arctic waters flowing in from the Kara Sea and the Arctic Ocean. In the center of the sea is a system of internal circular currents. The circulation of water in the Barents Sea changes under the effect of changes in the winds and the water exchange with adjacent seas. Tidal currents are of great significance, particularly along the coasts. The flow tides are semidiurnal, and they reach their greatest height of 6.1 m along the coast of the Kola Peninsula; in other places they are 0.6–4.7 m.

Water exchange with neighboring seas is of great significance in the water balance of the Barents Sea. During the year about 76,000 cu km of water flows into the Barents Sea through the straits (and as much flows out of it). This is approximately one-fourth the total water volume of the Barents Sea. The warm Nordkapp current carries the largest quantity of water (59,000 cu km annually), and this current has an exceptionally great effect on the hydrometeorological regime of the sea. Total river drainage into the Barents Sea averages 200 cu km annually.

The influx of warm Atlantic waters determines the relatively high temperature and salinity in the southwestern part of the sea. In February and March the water temperature on the surface is 3° to 5° C, and in August it rises to 7° to 9° C. To the north of 74° N lat. and in the southeastern part of the sea during the winter, the water temperature on the surface is below -1° C, during the summer in the north the temperature is 4° to 0° C, and in the southwest 4° to 7° C. The salinity of the surface water layer in the open sea throughout the year is 34.7–35 parts per thousand (‰) in the southwest, 33–34 ‰ in the east, and 32–33 ‰ in the north. In the coastal zone of the sea in the spring and summer, the salinity declines to 30–32 ‰, and by the end of the winter it rises to 34–34.5 ‰.

Severe climatic conditions in the northern and eastern Barents Sea determine the high degree of ice formation. During all seasons of the year only the southwestern portion of the sea remains free of ice. The ice cover reaches its greatest extent in April, when about 75 percent of the sea’s surface is covered with floating ice. In exceptionally severe years floating ice comes directly to the shores of the Kola Peninsula at the end of the winter. The least amount of ice occurs at the end of August. At this time the edge of the ice retreats beyond 78° N lat. In the northwestern and northeastern parts of the sea, ice is usually found throughout the year, but in individual mild years the sea is completely free of ice.

The Barents Sea is rich in various species of fish, plant and animal plankton, and benthos. Along the southern coast, marine algae are widely found. Of the 114 species of fish inhabiting the Barents Sea, the most important commercially are 20 species: cod, haddock, herring, sea bass, Asian smelt, flounder, halibut, and others. Mammals are represented by the white polar bear, ringed seal, Greenland seal, white whale, and others. Seals are hunted. The coasts abound in bird rookeries (Atlantic murre, black guillemots, and kit-tiwakes). The Barents Sea is of great national economic significance as a region of intensive fisheries and as a seaway linking the European USSR with ports of western and eastern nations. The ice-free port of Murmansk is the chief port on the Barents Sea. Other ports are Teriberka, Indiga, and Nar’ian-Mar (USSR) and Vard (Norway).

The Barents Sea was named after the Dutch navigator W. Barents. A scientific study of the sea was started by the expedition of F. P. Litke in 1821–24; the first complete and reliable hydrological description of the sea was drawn up by N. M. Knipovich at the beginning of the 20th century.


Vize, V. Iu. Moria Sovetskoi Arktiki, 3rd ed., vol. 1. [Moscow-Leningrad], 1948.
Esinov, V. K. Promyslovye ryby Barentseva moria. Leningrad-Moscow, 1937.
Tantsiura, A. I. “O techeniiakh Barentseva moria.” In Gidrologicheskie issledovaniia v Barentsevom, Norvezhskom i Grenlandskom moriakh. Moscow, 1959.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Barents Sea

a part of the Arctic Ocean, bounded by Norway, Russia, and the islands of Novaya Zemlya, Spitsbergen, and Franz Josef Land
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005