A northern sea providing ice-free access to Murmansk
The Barents Sea is named for the Dutch navigator, cartographer, and explorer Willem Barents, who mapped the area during expeditions in the late 1500’s. Historically, the Russians referred to it as the Sea of Murmans. It is located north of eastern Norway and western Russia. It is bordered on the west by the Norwegian and Greenland Seas, on the north by the Arctic Ocean, and on the east by the Kara Sea. The boundaries run from the North Cape (Norway) to Bear Island to Svalbard to Franz Josef Land to Novaya Zemlya to Cape Belyi Noss (Russia). For many years, the boundary between Norway and Russia in the Barents Sea was disputed, with the Norwegians espousing a median line between points of land and the Russians favoring use of a meridian. The dispute was finally settled by a compromise boundary largely down the middle of the disputed waters (and seabed). During World War II, the Battle of the Barents Sea involved a German attack on a British convoy en route Murmansk. The British lost a minelayer and a destroyer, while the Germans lost a destroyer and had a cruiser heavily damaged. The Soviet (now Russian) Northern Fleet operates out of Murmansk, which is ice-free year round. Some old nuclear reactors have been dumped in the Barents Sea, to the consternation of the Norwegians and environmental advocates. The area supports a lucrative fishery, primarily cod. Polar bears and other marine mammals are found in the area. Large oil and gas deposits have been found in the continental shelf and offshore drilling has commenced on both the Norwegian and Russian sides. The Barents Sea serves as the western terminus of the Northern Sea Route across northern Russia and Siberia to the Bering Strait. In recent years, reduction in ice coverage during the summer and autumn has resulted in increased maritime traffic in the region.