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Definition: The Barents Sea from Ocean

THE BARENTS AND GREENLAND SEAS MARK the boundary between the Arctic Ocean and the Atlantic. Most of the Arctic Ocean’s water exchange is with the north Atlantic. This exchange occurs at the Fram Strait, north of the Greenland Sea.


Barents Sea

Greenland Sea

Image from: Map in Ocean
Summary Article: Barents Sea
from Antarctica and the Arctic Circle: A Geographic Encyclopedia of the Earth's Polar Regions

The Barents Sea is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean and is located off the coast of Norway and Russia between the Norwegian (west) and Kara (east) Seas. The western sea border is the Svalbard (78° N 16° E). The eastern sea border is the Kara Strait, Novaya Zemlya Archipelago (74° N 56° E), and Franz Josef Land (80° 34′N 54° 47′E). The Barents Sea was formerly known as the “Sea of Murmans” by the Russians.

The Barents Sea's northern border is Cape Kohlsaat (81° 14′N 65° 10′E) of Graham Bell Island, on the eastern side of Franz Josef Land, Russia. The western northern border is Cape Leigh Smith on North East Land of Archipelago of Svalbard, Norway. Russia and Norway have an ongoing border dispute over the Barents Sea. This is called the Barents Sea “loophole.” The main difference between Russia and Norway was whether to determine the area based on the median line (favored by Norway) or meridian (favored by Russia). In 2010, Russia and Norway reached an agreement to divide a 67,000-square-mile (175,000-sq.-km) disputed area and resolve fishery protection and management and ownership of oil reserves. The Barents Sea is a significant fishery, and it is estimated to have 250 million recoverable barrels of oil.

Several rivers empty into the Barents Sea, such as the Indiga, Kola, Korotaikha, Oma, Pechenga, Pesha, Soima, Tuloma, and Voron'ya Rivers. The total area of the Barents Sea is about 542,473 square miles (1,405,000 sq. km). The average depth is about 760 ft. (230 m) with a maximum depth of around 1,500 ft. (450 m). The shallow Barents Sea has a highly productive seafloor. The Barents Sea supports more than 40 different species, 20 million seabirds, and more than 1,500 nesting colonies in the summer season. The most common species are the thick-billed murre, black-legged kittiwake, and little auks. Other common seabirds are cormorants and various gulls.

There is radioactive contamination in the Barents Sea. Nuclear waste has been dumped on the western and eastern sides of Novaya Zemlya, from 1960 to 1991, in the Barents Sea and Kara Sea, respectively. Low-level radioactive liquid waste has also been dumped in the open Barents and Kara Seas. Scientific assessments by the International Atomic Energy Agency claimed that the radioactive contamination per individual of the Kara and Barents Seas ranges from 1 to 20 microsieverts annually.

There have also been nuclear accidents in the Barents Sea. For example, on August 28, 2003, on a recovery mission, the pontoons supporting the submarine K-159 broke free resulting in its rolling and sinking down 781 ft. (238 m) to the Barents Sea seafloor. Nine people perished in the incident. Another incident was that involving K-278 sub in which its compressed air system enabled a fire to burn for about five hours, until the sub sank 5,510 ft. (1680 m) to the seafloor of the Barents Sea. On August 12, 2000, the Russian Oscar II class submarine K-141 Kursk sank in the Barents Sea.

See also: Arctic Basin; Arctic Ocean; Benthic Community; Continental Shelf Claims in the Arctic; Kara Sea; United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

Further Reading
  • Matishov, G.; N. Golubeva; G. Titova; A. Sydnes; B. Voegele. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Barents Sea, GIWA Regional Assessment 11: The Barents Sea Report. University of Kalmar Kalmar Sweden, 2004.
  • Hund, Andrew J.
    Copyright 2014 by Andrew J. Hund

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