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The Norwegian Sea

Flowing northwards from its southern sources around Florida, the Gulf Stream comes into touch with the colder air and water masses in northern European latitudes. (Photo: NASA)

The Norwegian Sea is a part of the North Atlantic Ocean, which consists of waters between the continental shelves of Norway and Spitsbergen in the east, and waters around the Mohn Ridge and Jan Mayen Ridge in the west. The Norwegian Sea is bounded by the Barents Sea to the northeast, the Greenland Sea to the northwest, the Iceland Sea to the west, and the North Sea to the southeast.


The Atlantic Mid Ocean Ridge System separates the Norwegian Basin from the Greenland Sea on the western part of the European North Atlantic. Seafloor spreading and volcanic activity resulted in extended submarine fracture zones and large eruptive islands - like Iceland.


The Gulf Stream carries warm water masses into the Norwegian Sea and contributes significantly to the mild climate along the west coast of Norway up to Tromsø far above the Polar Circle. In fall and winter, the Norwegian Sea climate is strongly influenced by the collision of warm Atlantic and cold Polar waters. Subsequently, strong cyclones originate in this area and track along 70 degrees northern latitude far towards the east and southeast of Europe. As branch of the Gulf Stream, the warm Norwegian Coastal Current gives the near coastal sea generally ice-free conditions. Up to the north, the Norwegian Sea is the source of much of the North Atlantic Deep Water.


The fishing grounds in the Norwegian Sea are some of the richest in the World. The population of Norwegian herring is potentially Europe's largest fish stock, and it is a key stock in Northern European waters. The species feeds on zooplankton throughout its life and is consumed by larger fish, seabirds and marine mammals as well as people.


Potential pollution of local marine resources may result from radioactive dumping in the Irish Sea, which spread far north up into the Norwegian Sea and Eastern Arctic waters. Additional pollutants may be released from melting Siberian sea ice close to Spitsbergen.


Together with the Greenland Sea, the Norwegian Sea can be regarded as the lungs of the Global Ocean. Flowing northwards from its southern sources around Florida, the Gulf Stream comes into touch with the colder air and water masses in northern European latitudes. Here, the water turns towards the west, the salt-rich Gulf Stream Water cools down, increases in density and sinks down to greater water depths to form nutrient and oxygen-rich bottom water in the Greenland Sea.


From the Greenland Sea, the bottom water creeps southwards thereby leaving the North Polar Region. The cold outflow of bottom water will be continuously compensated by the surface inflow of warm Atlantic Gulf Stream water masses. This pumping mechanism is called ”Thermohaline Circulation”.


The flow pattern described above is part – and one of the driving mechanisms - of the worldwide ocean circulation. The water masses that flow into - and out of - the Norwegian Sea are connected with ocean currents in the Atlantic Ocean further south, the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the South Polar Ocean. This global system of surface and bottom water currents is called the ”Conveyor Belt”, which feeds the entire World Ocean with oxygen- and nutrient-rich water masses.


Main islands and island groups

Lofot Islands, Vega, Vilkna, Hitra, Smøla, Sorø

and hundreds of Norwegian coastal islands


Major tributaries

Rauna, Orkla

North Arktic Ocean
West, South Atlantic Ocean
East Norway
Areal extent and water depth  
Total area ~ 1,4 mill. km2
Volume ~ 2,4 mill. km3
Maximum water depth > 3,500 m
Average depth ~ 1,742 m
Water depth coastal areas widely 200 to 300 m
Major plateaus and banks  
Vøring Plateau ~ 1,300 m
Fugløy Bank ~ 200 m
Røst Bank ~ 200 m
Træna Bank ~ 200 m
Dumshaf abyssal plain < 3,000 m
Surface water temperature ~ 0 to 8°C
Surface water salinity ~ 34,8 to 35,1 ‰

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