The Norwegian Sea is a large arm of the North Atlantic Ocean, lying west of Norway and east of the Greenland Sea and Iceland, and occupying an area of over 1,383,000 km2. The Greenland Sea can be separated in bathymetric terms from the Norwegian Sea by the Jan Mayen Ridge, Mohns Ridge, and Knipovich Ridge, or at the sea surface by an imaginary line drawn between northeastern Iceland, Jan Mayen Island, Bear Island (Bjørnøya), and Svalbard. The Norwegian Sea comprises two deep basins (Norwegian Basin, Lofoten Basin) and the continental shelf of Norway. Denmark's Faroe Islands lie at the southern boundary with the continental shelf of the North Sea. To the north, the Norwegian Basin is bounded by the shallow Barents Sea.
The Norway Current, an extension of the North Atlantic Drift, is a component of the Norwegian Sea, supplying the coast of Norway with warm water that allows even the most northern Norwegian ports to remain open for most of the year. This warm water also serves to attract large numbers of marine mammals such as whales, seals, and walruses who require open water (polynyas) for breathing purposes. Because of the abundance of marine life that is available for food, many species of seabirds use the small coastal islands and the mainland of Norway as locations for their rookeries. Commonly encountered species include fulmars, murres, guillemots, dovekies, and gulls.
Except for the coastal waters near Norway, the depth of the Norwegian Sea (2000-4000 m) allows for passage of all vessels, and the Norwegian Sea is an important northern transatlantic waterway. The important ports of the Norwegian Sea include (from south to north) Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim, Narvik, Tromsø, and Hammerfest. Beginning in the 16th century, the English and Dutch made vigorous attempts to establish a North East Passage to the Orient via the Norwegian and Barents seas. Although an oriental destination was never attained, the efforts led to the discovery of Svalbard, Novaya Zemlya, and access to northern Russian ports such as Murmansk. This route was vital in supplying Russia with arms and other supplies during World War II. German submarines plied the Norwegian Sea in an attempt to block this supply route. The result was the so-called “Battle of the North Atlantic.”
Oil and gas were discovered on the continental shelf of the Norwegian Sea in 1981, when the Midgard gas field (now part of the large Åsgard field) was found on Haltenbanken, 200 km offshore mid-Norway in waters less than 300 m deep. Subsequently, a significant number of oil and gas deposits have been proven on the shelf. Production on Haltenbanken started at the Draugen oil field in October 1993, and at Åsgard in 1999. Gas was found at Ormen Lange, deeper on the shelf in 1997. Deeper waters, including the Vøring Basin along the coast of Nordland and off Lofoten, remain comparatively little explored.
The Norwegian Sea has been the site of extensive oceanographic research. The Northeast Atlantic, Greenland, Iceland, Norwegian (NEAT GIN) sea experiment has studied a number of oceanographic parameters, particularly those related to ocean shelf interactions. The formation and sinking of surface-cooled water—a process called thermohaline circulation—that takes place in the Norwegian Sea and northern North Atlantic is an important source of cold bottom water in the global thermohaline ocean circulation. On a lighter note, several studies are currently under way in a search for Selma, a sea monster reported to have been seen in three separate sightings off the coast of Seljord, Norway.
See also Faroe Islands; Gas Exploration; North Atlantic Drift; North East Passage, Exploration of; Norway
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