Barents Sea - Physical characteristics

Source: The Barents Sea Report, UNEP, 2004. Matishov, G., Golubeva, N., Titova, G., Sydnes, A. and B. Voegele. Barents Sea, GIWA Regional assessment 11. University of Kalmar, Kalmar, Sweden. [17.4 MB pdf]

The Barents Sea shelf is rather deep. In the Barents Sea more than 50% of the area have depths of 200-500 m. The average depth is approximately 200 m and the maximum depth in the Norwegian trench reaches 513 m and in the Franz Josef Land straits it exceeds 600 m. In the White Sea, a considerable part of the shelf consists of shallow bays with an average depth of only 67 m and a maximum of 350 m.

Generally, the terrestrial basin relief is formed by plains and low highlands (up to 450 m), fringed in the east by the meridian Ural Range and its continuation towards the north; the Novaya Zemlya mountains.In the west the Scandinavian mountains and low mountain massifs of the Kola Peninsula (up to 1 200 m) edge the basin, whereas in the southwest and south, the basin is limited by a low watershed.


The main climate-forming factors are latitudinal changes in the incidence of solar radiation and the infl uence of the warm Atlantic water masses, entering the Barents Sea in the west. In the terrestrial part of the region the climate is transitional from marine to continental, with the continental infl uence increasing with distance from the coast. The climatic impacts of increasing continental infl uence are decrease in cyclonic activity, increased range of air temperature, and decrease in number of cloudy days and days with precipitation (Terziev et al. 1990).

The main feature of the winter air temperature distribution is the so-called warmth pole in the ice-free southwestern Barents Sea, where the average January sea temperature is close to 0°C. In the eastern part of the region, the severity of the winter regime both on land and in the southeastern Barents Sea increases sharply. The absolute air temperature minimum in the Barents Sea region reach 20°C below zero over the ice-free area of the Sea and 30°C below zero in the north and southeastern part. On land, in remote areas far from the Sea, air temperatures reach 50°C below zero.

Summer temperature distribution depends first of all on the solar radiation. Temperature maximum, close to 35°C, are attained in all parts of the land area, including the coastal zone. Corresponding values, calculated for off shore areas, vary from 30°C over the coastal water mass to 24°C at the boundary of Atlantic and Arctic water masses (74° N) (Matishov et al. 1998).

Socio-economic characteristics

Although the Barents Sea region is constituted as one geographic system, there are two separate socio-economic regions, Norway and Russia. Protection of the Barents Sea environment is a common responsibility of all border countries. Changes in environmental and social conditions are highly interdependent. Environmental conditions and trends affect human health and quality of life. Social conditions and outcomes need to be reviewed when designing and implementing environmental management activities and policies.

The state of water systems in the Barents Sea region is influenced bythe water catchments of:

  • Four administrative regions of the Russian Federation located on the coast of the Barents and White Seas: the Murmansk Region, the Arkhangelsk Region, Karelia, and the Nenets Autonomous Region;
  • The easternmost county of Norway, Finnmark, located on the westcoast of the region.


Source: Barents Sea, GIWA Regional assessment 11. Matishov, G., Golubeva, N., Titova, G., Sydnes, A. and B. Voegele [17.4 MB pdf]