The Barents Sea

Lena Seuthe
Scientific adviser
UiT The Arctic University of Norway

The Barents Sea is a relatively shallow Arctic shelf sea. Warm Atlantic water flows through the Barents Sea on its ways into the deep central Arctic Ocean. Changes occurring in the Barents Sea are therefore likely to be transmitted into the high Arctic. Being located in this transition zone between the sub-Arctic and the Arctic, the Barents Sea represents the ultimate site for investigating the impact of climatic changes on the marine ecosystem.

The Barents Sea (72-81°N and 15-60°E) is a hydrographically complex sea. The Atlantic Water inflow from the south and the fresher Arctic Water and sea ice entering the Barents Sea from the Nansen Basin in the north, are separated by the Polar Front, and give rise to two contrasting ecosystems in the southern and northern Barents Sea.

The Atlantic influenced southern part is home to one of Norway’s richest fisheries. The southern Barents Sea environment and ecosystem is quite well known, based on the research conducted by the Pro Mare research program in that region during the 1980s.

The northern and winter-ice covered region is far less investigated and understood. It is this region that experiences the greatest changes at present. Examples are a prolonged productive season due to ice retreat and increased concentrations of algae in the water. Resource surveys show that boreal generalist fish species are replacing more specialized Arctic fishes in the north.

Fundamental changes in biogeochemical cycling, metabolic rates and partitioning of productivity are expected in northern parts of the Barents Sea as global warming continues, but the responses of organisms and food webs, as well as the combined responses to multiple stressors, are unclear.

A pioneering holistic approach to establish the status of and identify the potential responses to these multiple changes is therefore required in the northern Barents Sea and adjacent Arctic Ocean, and is the ultimate goal of the Nansen Legacy.