The Barents Sea is a body of water that covers an area of about 540,000 square miles and is a relatively shallow sea with an average depth of about 750 feet. The Barents Sea is classified as a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean. Climatic changes have led to the Barents Sea having characteristics similar to the Atlantic Ocean. In the past, the sea was referred to as Murmanskoye Morye in reference to the Norwegians who primarily sailed on its waters. The name was widely used particularly on maps such as the 1595 Map of the Arctic. The sea was one of the most difficult for sailors to cross which made them refer to it as both "The Devil's Jaw" and "The Devil's Dance Floor." The sea's present name was chosen to honor one of the most famous explorers from the Netherlands, Willem Barentsz. The Barents Sea is of great historical significance mainly due to the WWII, which was fought within its waters between the German and the British. Two countries have a coastline on the Barents Sea; Norway and Russia.
The Barents Sea has played a significant role in Norway's history as early communities sailed on its waters and therefore giving it the name the Murman Sea. In modern times, the Barents Sea is of great economic importance to the Norwegian government due to the oil fields located in the region. One of the most prominent fields is the Goliat field which was the first one to be discovered on the Norwegian part of the territory. The reserves on the Goliat site are estimated to be about 174 million barrels. The site faced some challenges which delayed production which was initially expected to begin in 2015. Production finally started a year later, and experts predict that it will go on for nearly 15 years. Apart from oil, the Norwegians also extract natural gas from the Barents Sea mainly from the Snøhvit field. The main reason for the field's prominence is that it has natural gas reserves whose volume is about 193 billion cubic meters. Apart from natural gas, the area has light oil and natural gas liquids. The government of Norway also supports research into the Barents Sea to maintain its natural ecosystem. Several towns are located in the Norwegian section of the Barents Sea, and one of the most important is Vardø which in 2017 was home to about 1,875 people.
Russia's total coastline covers a length of about 23,396 miles and a section of that is its coastline along the Barents Sea. Several towns are located in the Russian region of the Barents Sea with the most prominent being Murmansk which in 2014 was home to 299,148 residents. The city has a long history having been founded during the period of the Russian Empire. Apart from being a major historical center, Murmansk is also an administrative town as well as a port. Russia obtains some economic benefits from being close to the Barents Sea primarily in the sectors of oil and gas exploration. One of the most significant natural gas fields is known as the Shtokman field and is located in the Russian region of the Barents Sea. The significance of the Shtokman field is that it has natural gas reserves estimated at 130 trillion cubic feet. Apart from the natural gas, the field also has gas condensate reserves that are estimated to be 37 million tons. Another important project in the Russian region of the Barents Sea is the Prirazlomnoye field.
Joint Fishing Projects
Because of the unique location of the Barents Sea, it has a large population of fish. The governments of Norway and Russia work together to ensure the fish in the Barents Sea are adequately utilized without drastically reducing their numbers. In 1976, the two governments founded the Joint Norwegian–Russian Fisheries Commission and the primary goal of the organization was to monitor the effect of fishing on the fish population in the Barents Sea. The organization also performs other functions such as determining the number of fish that can be caught as well as facilitating the sharing of relevant information between Norway and Russia. The organization faced several challenges that made it difficult to fulfill its mandate.
Border Dispute Between Norway and Russia
The Russian and Norwegian governments were involved in a dispute over the position of their respective border in the sea. The issue between the two nations dates back to the 20th century when Finland got Petsamo from the Russians as part of the Treaty of Tartu. The result of the treaty was that Russia and Norway no longer had a common border. The Norwegian and Finnish governments agreed on the position of the border, but Petsamo soon reverted to Russian control which necessitated a border review. The two governments initially disagreed on the border markings to be used with the Soviets favoring the use of wooden markers while the Norwegians favored the use of Cairns. The Norwegian government was initially opposed to the idea because of the high cost but subsequently relented because it would significantly reduce illegal border crossings. Another major dispute occurred after the Soviet government proposed to shift the location of the border. The Norwegian government rejected the first Soviet proposal as it would require them to give up land vital for hydroelectric projects. The two countries finally settled on a proposal put forward by the Norwegian delegation.
Solving the Dispute
Discussions began in 1970 to determine the location of the maritime border but faced some challenges such as the arrest of Arne Treholt, one of the leading Norwegian negotiators. Investigations revealed he had been working for the Russians and the Norwegian people rejected the deal he had contributed to because they considered him a traitor. The two nations finally reached an agreement in 2010 during a meeting in Oslo attended by the leaders of the respective governments. The agreement was a compromise that ensured that each nation got a nearly equal portion of the disputed territory.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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