Barents Sea Environmental Status Report 2016

Grid List

Air temperatur picture, frosen face. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute

Meteorological condition 2013

Air temperature data from the NOMADS (NOAA Operational Model Archive Distribution System http://nomad2.ncep.noaa.gov) website were averaged over the western (70–76°N, 15–35°E) and eastern (69–77°N, 35–55°E) Barents Sea. During 2012, positive air temperature anomalies prevailed in the Barents Sea, with the largest values (4–7°C) in the eastern part of the sea from January to April (Figure 4.2.2).

Small scale weather station. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute

Meteorological condition 2013

During 2013, the NAO index changed from negative values in January–March to slightly positive values which lasted the rest of the year. During winter (2012 –2013) northerly, northwesterly and northeasterly winds prevailed over the Barents Sea; during summer (April–August) southerly, southwesterly, and southeasterly winds prevailed. During autumn (September–October) wind direction shifted to easterly and northeasterly.

Marin sediment sampling and research. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute

Oceanographic conditions 2013

Marine sediments are mixtures of grains of varying sizes on the seabed; they serve as functionally important habitats for benthic organisms. The relative proportion of grains in different categories used to describe sediment can be classified as: mud (clay and silt) <0.063 mm; sand 0.063-2 mm; gravel 2-64 mm; cobbles 64-256 mm; and boulders >256 mm. The present day sedimentation pattern in the Barents Sea shows low or no sediment deposition on the shallow bank areas due to relatively strong bottom currents.

Chemical conditions sampling. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute

Oceanographic conditions 2013

In 2012, the oxygen saturation (dissolved oxygen) level at the bottom layer of the southern Barents Sea was much lower than the 1958-2012 long-term average, and was lower than observed in 2011. The oxygen-saturation anomaly — averaged fromJanuary to September — was –2.14% in 2012, compared to –0.79% in 2011 (Figure 4.2.12). The largest negative anomaly occurred during the first half of the year. In 2013, oxygen saturation in the Kola section increased and was slightly above the long-term average.

Seaice condition in the Barents Sea. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute

Oceanographic conditions 2013

Meteorological conditions over the Barents Sea during winter 2011/2012, resulted in decreasing sea-ice coverage. From January through July 2012, ice coverage (expressed as a percentage of the sea area) was 17–32% below average and 7–25% lessthan in 2011 (Figure 4.2.11). During February and July 2012, sea-ice coverage was the smallest observed since 1951 for these months. In August and September 2012, there was no ice in the Barents Sea; the ice edge was located much farther

Temperature sampling equipment. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute

Oceanographic conditions 2013

The Fugløya–Bear Island section receives all Atlantic Water entering the Barents Sea from the southwest. Throughout 2013, Atlantic Water temperature was 0.2°C - 0.5°C above the 1977-2014 long-term average (Figure 4.2.10). Similar to temperature, water salinity also was above the 1977-2014 long-term average throughout 2013, with the anomalies ranging between 0.02 and 0.05, and trending downwards throughout the year (Figure 4.2.11).

Temperature sampling equipment. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute

Oceanographic conditions 2013

Throughout 2013, positive surface water temperature anomalies prevailed in the Barents Sea. The largest anomalies (up to 4.0°C) were found in the eastern sea. Compared to 2012, the surface temperatures were much higher (by 1.3–2.7°C) in most of the Barents Sea, especially in its central and southern parts. In August–September 2013, during the joint Norwegian-Russian ecosystem survey, the surface temperatures were the highest since 1951 in about 50% of the surveyed area (ICES AFWG, 2014).

Acustic doppler current profiler for mooring. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute

Oceanographic conditions 2013

Volume flux in the Barents Sea varies within periods of several years, and was significantly lower during 1997–2002 than during 2003–2006 (Figure 4.2.3). During winter 2006, volume flux was at a maximum throuhout 1997-2013; whereas, during fall volume flux was anomalously low. After 2006, volume flux has been relatively low, particularly during spring and summer. During 2013, volume flux was generally larger than the 1997–2013 average.

Marine algae Codium fragile introduced in the southern Barents Sea. Photo: seaweedinsustry.com

Introduced species 2013

During the last half century, 2 major crab species were introduced to the Barents Sea: red king crab Paralithodes camtschaticus in the 1960s; and snow crab Chionoecetes opilio in the 1990s. Early this century(2000), species from the southern boreal areas have expanded northward to appear in the Barents Sea, including the snake pipefish Entelurus aequoreus, snail ray Dipturus linteus, whiting Merlangius merlangus, grey gurnard Eutrigla gurnardus, and megrim Lepidorhombus whiffiagonis.

Several seabird populations in the Barents Sea region are of international importance. The most numerous species are: Brünnich´s guillemot (Uria lomvia); little auk (Alle alle); Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica); black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis); and common eider (Somateria mollissima). An important part of the global breeding population of the rare ivory gull (Pagophila eburnea) is found within the northern part of the region — in Svalbard and Franz Josef Land.

The Barents Sea is inhabited by 21 species of sea mammals. Among these, 11 species are threatened according to the IUCN Red List, 13 are included in the Red Book of the Russian Federation (2001) and 8 extant species are on the endangered species list of Norway (Table 4.3.6) (plus the recently extinct northern right whale stock). Anthropogenic factors thought to be most harmful for marine mammals are fisheries interactions, pollution, and climate warming; the

latter is a particularly acute problem in the Arctic, and a serious threat for all ice-associated marine mammals. Increasing levels of tourism in Svalbard might also pose additional risk to polar bears in that region. Polar bears were severely overharvested in the Barents Sea Region, but became protected in 1973. The first population survey, in 2004, estimated that 2,650 bears reside in the northern Barents Sea; current population trends are unknown.

The Barents Sea region is inhabited by 28 fish species which are either on the Global Red List (8 species) or on the Norwegian Red List (25 species) (Table 4.3.6). Among these, 13 are data deficient (DD) species, i.e. the species would likely appear on the red list if adequate information were available. When considering the lists of rare and threatened marine fish species, 3 main groups of impact factors may be considered: 1) fisheries (catch and by-catch); 2) environmental

Future higher temperatures in the Norwegian Arctic, including the Barents Sea, will likely cause several pathogens (parasites, bacteria, viruses) to extend their distributions northward (Tryland et al., 2009). The prevalence and abundance of pathogens may also change. Such a change in distribution of pathogens may have several consequences for both wild and domesticated animals, which are difficult to predict due to a lack of data.

Numbers of seabirds breeding in the Barents Sea Region have changed dramatically over the last 50 years. A recent assessment of population status and trends has been conducted, based on monitoring and census date for several species breeding in the western part of the Barents Sea (i.e., Norwegian mainland and Svalbard) (Fauchald et al., 2015). Resulting analyses indicate that breeding populations of subarctic pelagic auk species (common guillemot Uria aalge, razorbill

Microbes. Photo: U:S. Department of health and human services

Microbes 2013

Expected increased temperatures related to climate change will likely affect growth rates and other biological processes.  This may cause competitive conditions to change between cold-adapted bacteria and bacteria adapted to warmer waters (Børsheim and Drinkwater 2014). Consequently, the species composition of bacterial communities may also change as temperatures change.

Coastal marine mammal species in the Barents Sea include harbour seals, grey seals, and the harbour porpoise. Larger whales also migrate along the coast on their way north to the take advantage of the summer burst of productivity in the Barents Sea. The harbour seal is a coastal species that is found both in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Harbour seals are gregarious, hauling out to rest on land at low tide every day of the year, in groups ranging from just a few animals up

White-beaked dolphins are the only dolphin to remain in the Barents Sea Region on a year-round basis. They are found throughout the North Atlantic, primarily in shelf waters, but they canmay also inhabit offshore areas of intermediate depths. During summer, they can be found north to the ice edge. They are commonly sighted in coastal waters around Spitsbergen in summer, as well as in the pelagic parts of the Barents Sea, but are most common in the southern Barents

The bowhead whale is the only baleen whale that resides in the Arctic throughout its life. It is highly adapted to its ice-associated lifestyle, possessing a very thick layer of blubber (up to 30 cm), no dorsal fin, and a complex circulationcirculatory system (with numerous vascular retes) for conservingadaptations) to conserve heat. Moreover, their highly elevated blow-holesblowholes are thought to be an adaptation tofor breathing inwithin the cracks in sea ice.

Narwhal inhabit the North Atlantic Ocean sector on both sides of Greenland and the archipelagos of, as well as Svalbard and Frans Josef Land archipelagos. They also occupy some waters north of Canada and Russia; they are very rare in the Pacific Arctic. Similar to their close relative, the white whale, these mid-sized odontocetes liveremain in social group (pods) throughout their lives, often in association with sea ice. They are deep divers that feed on arcticArctic cod, polar cod,

The white whale/beluga whale is the most numerous of the three resident ice-associated Arctic whales in the Barents Sea. Similar to the other two high-arctic species, it can be found in high concentrations of drifting ice (>90% ice cover) in areas which are inaccessible to migratory species of whales. Satellite-tracking of white whales in Svalbard during summer and early autumn has shown a profoundly coastal distribution; tracking data from late autumn and early winter suggest that they remain close to these coastal areas, penetrating deep into extensive ice. During summer, they spend most of their time close to tidal glacier fronts in Svalbard or moving between them (Lydersen et al., 2001).

Bearded seals have a patchy distribution throughout the Arctic, occurring at low densities throughout their range. They are largely solitary, but small groups can be seen during late spring and -early summer, when they are breeding,breed and then moultingmoult/molt, and the sea-ice cover is restrictedlimited. Bearded seals can maintain holes in relatively thin ice, but avoid densely packed ice unless open-water leads are available. 

Ringed seals occur throughout the Arctic. They are the only northern seal that can maintain breathing holes in thick sea ice and thus are distributed well beyond the range of the other northern true seals – north to the Pole (Heide-Jørgensen and Lydersen, 1998; Gorbunov and Belikov, 2008). They are extremely dependent on sea ice, which is their exclusive breeding and haul-out platform. Typically, they prefer land-fast ice in fjords and along coastlines, with reasonably thick

Walruses are distributed across the circumpolar Arctic, but their distribution is discontinuous and two subspecies are recognized: one in the Pacific; and the other in the Atlantic. In the northern Barents Sea, they are found from Svalbard through to Franz Josef Land; in the southern Barents Region, they occur in the Pechora Sea and the Kara Sea. Recently, they have been observed regularly in the White Sea as well (Klepikovsky and Lisovsky, 2005; Svetochev and

Polar bears have a circumpolar Arctic distribution, which includes the entire northern Barents Sea south to Novaya Zemlya. They are heavily dependent on sea ice for foraging and for travelling to and from terrestrial denning areas; they depend on thick layers of snow in maternity denning areas. They prefer first-year ice that develops over shelf seas for hunting, where ice-associated seals (their primary prey) are most abundant (Derocher et al., 2002). 

Harp seals are migratory and have a much wider distribution range than ringed seals, bearded seals, and walruses; they also have a more pelagic life history (Lavigne and Kovacs, 1988; Haug et al., 1994a). Three different populations inhabit the North Atlantic: the Northwest Atlantic population off Canada’s east coast; the Greenland Sea (West-Ice) population which breeds and moults just north of Jan Mayen; and the East-Ice population which congregate in the White Sea to breed. 

Hooded seals form one stock in the Northwest Atlantic and another in the Northeast Atlantic; although, recent genetic studies suggest no biological distinction between the groups (Coltman et al., 2007). In the Northeast Atlantic, whelping takes place in mid-late March in the West Ice, not far from where the West-Ice harp seals give birth. Between breeding and the moult, hooded seals carry out feeding excursions to the continental shelf edge off the Faroe Islands and Northern Ireland and to areas in the Norwegian Sea. 

Among the toothed whales, the long-finned pilot whale, sperm whale, the northern bottlenose whale, and killer whales are summer visitors to the Barents Sea. The Northeast Atlantic population of long-finned pilot whales number some 780,000 individuals (NAMMCO 1998), but only a very small (and unknown) part of this population enters the Barents Sea. Few sightings have been made in areas covered by IMR surveys; these sightings are insufficient to estimate

Killer whales occur in all world oceans and most seas, but their relative scarcity and sporadic occurrence make them difficult to census in the Barents Region. Photo-identification techniques have been used to recognise >400 individuals in northern Norway. Coastal killer whales are tightly linked to the availability of herring. During winter, killer whales aggregate in and around Vestfjorden in Lofoten, foraging on over-wintering herring. 

Among the baleen whales that frequent the Barents Sea on a seasonal basis, the minke whale is the most numerous. Recent estimates suggest that the population is quite stable (Solvang et al., 2015), although minor variations do occur in both distribution and point estimates. The most recent point estimate for minke whale abundance in the total area is numerically lower than previous estimates, but not significantly different from estimates based on the two preceding

Fin whales and humpback whales are the second and third most abundant baleen whales in the Barents Sea, respectively. Both are fast-swimming, migratory species that over-winter in the south and occupy the Barents Sea during the productive summer months. The summer activity of these whales is dominated by feeding and during most of the winter; they are thought to fast while they are breeding. In the Barents Sea, fin whales generally inhabit deeper areas along

Blue whales are also summer residents in the Barents Sea. They probably number 600-1,500 individuals in the North Atlantic. In recent years, this species has been sighted frequently in Svalbard waters, up the west coast at the shelf edge as well as north of Spitsbergen. Similar to the fin whale, it also enters deeply into Svalbard fjords. It is sighted from early summer until late fall, and appears to be extending is seasonal presence in the northern Barents Sea

(NPI Marine Mammal Sighting Data Base).

Small cetaceans that frequent the Barents Sea include bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, white-sided dolphins and white-beaked dolphins. All but the latter occur in the southern Barents Sea, particularly along the shelf break and over oceanic banks and ridges, but must be considered vagrants in the region. White-beaked dolphins are the only small cetacean species that routinely occupies the region more broadly.

Transport of crude oil and other petroleum products from ports and terminals in Northwest Russia through the Barents Sea has been increasing over the last decade. In 2002, about 5 million tons of Russian oil was exported along the North-Norwegian coastline, in 2004, the volume reached almost 12 million tons, but dropped the following year; during 2005 to 2013, levels of export ranged between 9 and 12 million tons per year. In a five-ten year perspective, the total

Future shipping activities depend considerably on the expansion rate of the oil-and-gas related industry in the northern areas, which in turn depends on both regional and global economic developments. Global warming and a subsequent increase of ice-free shipping routes through Arctic waters could also significantly contribute to increase of shipping traffic.

Drilling platform Deepsea Delta in the Barents Sea. Photo: Gazprom

Oil and gas activities 2013

The environmental risks of oil and gas development in the region have been evaluated several times, and is a key environmental question facing the region. The focus of the debate is the risk of an accidental oil-spill during exploration or production. The consequences of such a spill depend on the activity, the location, time and potential exposure of environmental valuable species and areas. One of the environmental risks from future oil production can be associated with potential activities, which might influence near-shore areas, especially in ecologically valuable areas like the Lofoten-Islands and Pechora Sea. In addition, the Polar Oceanographic Front and the Ice Edge zone are particular sensitive areas.

Vessel collisions or ship strikes may result in death or serious injury of marine mammals, i.e., massive trauma, hemorrhaging, broken bones, and propeller wounds. Collisions occur mainly with large whale species, small cetaceans (i.e., dolphins, narwhal, beluga), marine turtles, and sirenians (i.e., manatees, dugongs (Arctic Council, 2009).

Transport of farmed salmon (Photo: Bjørn Tore Forberg/Nofima)

Aquaculture 2013

Aquaculture is a growing industry along the coasts of northern Norway and Russia; there are several commercial fish farms producing salmonids (salmon, and trout), white fish (mainly cod), and shellfish. Aquaculture is dominated by salmon and trout. Norwegian farmed Atlantic salmon accounts for over half of the world’s salmon supply. While landed catch has in general shown a declining trend, aquaculture production has increased steadily (FAO, 2013).

Tourists in Svalbard (Photo: NPI)

Tourism 2013

Tourism is one of three focus areas for business in Svalbard, and has been so since the last White Paper Number 50 (1990-91) Næringstiltak på Svalbard (Measures for Economic development of Svalbard) was presented. Cruise tourism is a major part with high numbers of operators, vessels, and ships; the cruise tourism industry in Svalbard has increased considerably over the last 10-15 years transporting a large number of passengers. There are two types of vessels:

Tourism, Pyramiden, Svalbard (Photo: NPI)

Tourism 2013

In December 2013, the Murmansk regional government decreed that the role of tourism in economic and socio-cultural development of the region should be increased. Cruise tourism is recognized as a key area for further development. To develop the infrastructure to ensure regular marine passenger transport, the “Arctic Harbor” investment project will be implemented. Within the project’s framework, a range of improvements are planned, including: reconstruction of

Shipping is an extensively international industry. Therefore, global legislations, conventions, and standards which regulate shipping are desirable and play an important role to harmonize the regulations across nations. Major international organisations which contribute to regulations are: IMO (International Maritime Organisation), ILO (the UN’s international workers organisation), and EMSA (European Maritime Safety Agency). Regional initiatives are also helpful, such as the

Fishing activity in the Barents Sea (Photo: NPI)

Adopting and Adapting an Ecosystem Approach to Management 2013

Major stocks supporting fisheries in the Barents Sea are also shared stocks between Russia and Norway. A key challenge is to create the basis for an optimal and effective management regime for these shared fishery resources, including rational harvesting of cod and other important stocks. During the late 1970s, cooperation on management of shared fish stocks was instituted through the Joint Norwegian-Russian Fisheries Commission (JNRFC), formally established in 1975.

Historically, management by sector and uncoordinated plans for development have lowered effectiveness of some types of ocean use activities; this has led to latent conflicts and negative ecological consequences for marine resources in Russia. Hence, a Strategy for the Development of maritime activities of the Russian Federation for the period up to 2030 was approved by the Federal Government in December, 2010 (№ 2205-p); this Strategy guides the development of

The summary presented below is based on Integrated Management of the Marine Environment of the Barents Sea and the Sea Areas off the Lofoten Islands (Report No. 8 (2005–2006) to the Storting. Russian version: Комплексное управление морской средой Баренцева моря и морских районов, прилегающих к Лофотенским островам (план управления). Доклад правительства Стортингу No 8 (2005–2006).

Continued careful monitoring and evaluation of essential components will be necessary to determine the changing status of the Barents Sea ecosystem and the effectiveness of management actions — whether or not management strategies improve ecosystem services and sustainability. Monitoring objectives for ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM) and integrated ecosystem assessment (IEA) will likely include data collection to support:ecosystem models which can

Climate change may have a complex set of influences on both the flux and fate of contaminants in the Barents Sea. Increasing temperatures, changing wind systems and ocean currents, changing precipitation regime, melting sea ice, glaciers, ice-caps, and thawing permafrost, will all affect the transport, deposition, remobilization, and flux of contaminants between air and water, as well as environmental stability, ecosystem structure, bioavailability, bioaccumulation, bio-magnification, transformation, degradation, and toxicity (Macdonald et al., 2005; Noyes et al., 2009; UNEP/AMAP, 2011; Kallenborn et al., 2012; Moe et al., 2013; Stahl et al., 2013).

Calanus glacialis in Barents Sea. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute

Expected changes 2013

Along with climate change, anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are causing acidification of the world oceans, because CO2 reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid. Due to the increased atmospheric CO2 concentration, the average pH-value of the surface waters of the global oceans has decreased from pH 8.2 to pH 8.1 since the onset of industrial revolution. This ocean acidification is extremely rapid in northern sea areas compared to other global oceans. It is expected that organisms living at high latitudes will be among the first affected.

Sea ice research. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute

Expected changes 2013

Over the last 50 years, air temperatures have increased almost twice as fast in the Arctic than the global average. Models predict that air temperatures will continue to increase considerably, and summer sea ice in the Arctic is likely to disappear before the middle of this century and winter sea ice by the end of the current century (IPCC, 2013). Because of the complex dynamics of the Barents Sea ecosystem, and because the effects of climate change will interact with other major factors, such as

Fisheries and other harvesting are drivers that have major impact on the Barents Sea ecosystem. These activities have a long history dating back to the early 17th century when large scale whaling activity started. In centuries which followed, whaling and other hunting led to the near extinction of several whale stocks and other marine mammals such as bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus), North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis), and walruses (Odobenus rosmarius).

International agreements and conventions, both globally and regionally, are of major importance to control and reduce pollution of the Barents Sea. These agreements include regulation of activities and restrictions or bans on use of hazardous substances. One of the most important is the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which both Norway and Russia have adopted. It entered into force in 1994 and lays down fundamental international rules for all