White Sea

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White Sea
White Sea map.png
Coordinates 65°30′N37°30′E / 65.500°N 37.500°E / 65.500; 37.500 Coordinates: 65°30′N37°30′E / 65.500°N 37.500°E / 65.500; 37.500
Type Sea
Basin  countries Russia
Surface area90,000 km2 (34,700 sq mi)
Average depth60 m (197 ft)
Max. depth340 m (1,115 ft)
References [1] [2]

The White Sea (Russian : Белое море, Béloye móre; Karelian and Finnish : Vienanmeri, lit. Dvina Sea; Nenets : Сэрако ямʼ, Serako yam) is a southern inlet of the Barents Sea located on the northwest coast of Russia. It is surrounded by Karelia to the west, the Kola Peninsula to the north, and the Kanin Peninsula to the northeast. The whole of the White Sea is under Russian sovereignty and considered to be part of the internal waters of Russia. [3] Administratively, it is divided between Arkhangelsk and Murmansk oblasts and the Republic of Karelia.


The major port of Arkhangelsk is located on the White Sea. For much of Russia's history this was Russia's main centre of international maritime trade, conducted by the Pomors ("seaside settlers") from Kholmogory. In the modern era it became an important Soviet naval and submarine base. The White Sea–Baltic Canal connects the White Sea with the Baltic Sea.

The White Sea is one of the four seas named in English after common colour terms—the others being the Black, Red and Yellow Seas.



The International Hydrographic Organization defines the northern limit of the White Sea as "A line joining Svyatoy Nos (Murmansk Coast, 39°47'E) and Cape Kanin". [4]


Summer day on a beach near Severodvinsk, on the southeastern shore of the sea Severodvinsk Yagry Island Beach.jpg
Summer day on a beach near Severodvinsk, on the southeastern shore of the sea
Kandalaksha Gulf Kandalakshskii zaliv.jpg
Kandalaksha Gulf
Shore of Onega Bay on Kiy Island Kiy-island Russia.jpg
Shore of Onega Bay on Kiy Island

There are four main bays or gulfs on the White Sea. These bays connect with the funnel-shaped opening to the Barents Sea via a narrow strait called "Gorlo" (Russian : Горло, meaning "throat"). Kandalaksha Gulf lies in the western part of the White Sea; it is the deepest part of the sea, reaching 340 metres (1,115 feet). On the south, Onega Bay receives the Onega River. To the southeast, the Dvina Bay receives the Northern Dvina at the major port of Arkhangelsk. On the east side of the 'gorlo', opposite to the Kola Peninsula, is Mezen Bay. It receives the Mezen River and the Kuloy River. Other major rivers flowing into the sea are the Vyg, Niva, Umba, Varzuga and Ponoy. [1] [2]

The seabed of the central part and Dvina Bay is covered in silt and sand, whereas the bottom of the northern part, the Kandalaksha Gulf and Onega Bay is a mixture of sand and stones. Ice age deposits often emerge near the sea shores. Northwestern coasts are tall and rocky but the slope is much weaker at the southeastern side. [1]

The White Sea contains a large number of islands, but most of them are small. The main island group is the Solovetsky Islands, located almost in the middle of the sea, near the entrance to Onega Bay. Kiy Island in Onega Bay is significant due to a historic monastery. Velikiy Island, located close to the shore, is the largest island in the Kandalaksha Gulf. [2]

Hydrography and bathymetry

The White Sea is a water-filled depression in the block of a continental shelf known as the Baltic Shield. Its bottom is very uneven and contains the Kandalaksha Hollow in the northwest and the Solovetsky Islands in the south. Also, the Onega Bay has many small underwater elevations. The opening and the gorlo of the sea are rather shallow, with depths about 50 metres or less. In addition, there is an underwater ridge in the northern part of the gorlo, resulting in maximum depths of 40 metres in that part. This hinders water exchange between the White and Barents seas. [2] [3] The exchange is however assisted by the tides, which are semidiurnal (rising twice a day), with the amplitude increasing from 1 metre on the south to 10 metres in Mezen Bay. Currents are rather weak in the open seas with the speed below 1 km/h, but they significantly strengthen in the bays. [1] The tidal waves are much faster than the regular currents and reach the speeds of 9 km/h in Mezen Bay, 3.6 km/h in Onega Bay and 1.3 km/h in the Kandalaksha Gulf. [3]

Rivers bring annually about 215 km3 of fresh water, on average, mostly to the Onega, Mezen and Dvina bays. The Northern Dvina alone may contribute up to 171 km3 in some years, with the Mezen, Onega, Kem and Vyg rivers adding up to 38.5, 27.0, 12.5 and 11.5 km3, respectively. About 40% of this volume is brought during the snow melting in May, and the inflow is minimal in February–March. This inflow raises and lowers the sea level that promotes the water exchange with the Barents Sea. As a result, annually, about 2,000 km3 and 2,200 km3 flow in and out of the White Sea, respectively. The inflow of fresh water in spring decreases the surface salinity in the top 5–10 metre layer to 23‰ (parts per thousand) in the eastern and 26–27‰ in the western parts of the sea, reaching 10–12‰ in Dvina Bay; it also increases the content of silicon and silicates in water, which is a characteristic feature of the White Sea. [3]

Storms are the strongest in October–November. However, small sea depths reduce the wave height to the average of 1 metre, sometimes reaching 3–5 metres. The sea is quiet in July–August. [3]


Two satellite photos of the White Sea taken on 23 April 2000 (top) and 3 May 2001 (bottom) Modis white sea.jpg
Two satellite photos of the White Sea taken on 23 April 2000 (top) and 3 May 2001 (bottom)

The climate varies between polar and moderate continental with frequent fogs and clouds. Winds are predominantly southwestern in winter with speeds of 4–8 m/s. They bring cold air from the south, establishing the temperature of about −15 °C (February) over most of the sea. The northern part is warmer at about −9 °C, sometimes reaching −6 °C, due to the warm air masses from the Atlantic. Arctic anticyclones, however, change winds to the northeastern ones, bringing much colder weather with temperatures of about −25 °C. Summers are cold, cloudy and relatively humid, with northeastern winds and frequent rains. Average July temperatures are 8–10 °C. Occasional southeastern winds bring warm air from Europe, raising the temperature to 17–19 °C and sometimes even to 30 °C. Annual precipitations increase from 282 mm in the north 529 in the south. [1] [3]

In winter, from October–November to May–June, the sea freezes, with the average January water temperatures of −1.9 °C in the north, between −1.3 and −1.7 °С in the centre, and between −0.5 and −0.7 °С in the bays. These variations are due to the distribution of water salinity across the sea, which increases from 24–26‰ in the centre to 30.5‰ in the gorlo, reaching 34.0–34.5‰ toward the Barents Sea. The freezing period varies from year to year as shown in the satellite image to the right. [1] The ice is not stationary, but 90% of it is floating and is continuously removed to the Barents Sea. Ice thickness is usually about 40 cm but may reach 150 cm in cold winters. [3]

In summer, surface water warms up to 15 °С in the central part, but remains relatively cold in the north, at 7–8 °С, due to the water exchange between the surface and the cold bottom part which is enhanced by the shallow depths in the northern parts. Deep sea (about 100 m or more) is characterised by stable temperature (−1.4 °С) and salinity (30‰). [1] [3] The depth distribution of water temperature is very inhomogeneous across the sea. For example, at the exit from Dvina Bay, water temperature drops to 0 °C at the depth of only 12–15 m, but the same temperature is reached at 65 m at the exit from the Kandalaksha Gulf. [3]


A map of the White Sea (1635) Whiteseamap.jpg
A map of the White Sea (1635)
Solovetsky Monastery Istoriko-kul'turnyi kompleks Solovetskikh ostrovov.jpg
Solovetsky Monastery

Residents of Novgorod knew of the White Sea from at least the 11th century and rapidly explored its commercial significance for navigation and its coastal forests rich in fur animals. One of the earliest settlements near the sea shores grew up in the late 14th century at Kholmogory, on the Northern Dvina. From there, in 1492, a merchant fleet laden with grain and carrying ambassadors of Ivan III of Russia sailed to Denmark, marking the establishment of the first international seaport in Russia. [5]

The first foreign ship to arrive in Kholmogory was the English Edward Bonaventure commanded by Richard Chancellor in 1553. [6] Together with two other ships under the command of Hugh Willoughby, his crew had sought a northern route to the Indies, especially India and China. The expedition, sponsored by King Edward VI of England and a group of about 240 English merchants, had London's authorisation to establish trade connections. The ships of Willoughby were separated and the other two were lost at sea, but Edward Bonaventure managed to pass the White Sea and reach Kholmogory, from where Chancellor was escorted to Moscow to meet the Russian Tsar, Ivan IV. Returning from Russia in 1554, Chancellor brought back a detailed description of Moscow and the Russian north, which were largely unknown to Europe, as well as a letter from the Tsar expressing desire to establish trade relations with England. In 1555 Queen Mary issued a charter authorising the Muscovy Company to trade with Russia via the White Sea route. [7] [8]

Dutch ships soon followed the English, and the port of Kholmogory became busy with shipments of fur and fish. Local and foreign shops and factories were established in the city at that time. The port was reinforced with a fortress which sustained a siege by the Polish-Lithuanian army in 1613. Increasing traffic overloaded the port, which relied on shallow river-waters and had limited ship-capacity. However, instead of expanding the old port, Ivan IV established a new one down-river in 1584, called New Kholmogory, which from 1596 began to become known as Arkhangelsk. [5] [9]

Between the 15th and early 18th centuries, the White Sea served as the major trade route in and out of Russia. This role decreased later after the foundation of Saint Petersburg (1703), which opened a more direct ice-free connection between Russia and the bulk of Western Europe via the Baltic Sea. From the 1920s, most northern Russian sea shipments diverted from the White Sea to the new port of Murmansk (officially founded in 1916), where the waters did not freeze in winter. [1]

Fauna and economy

The sea hosts more than 700 species of invertebrates, about 60 species of fish, and five species of marine mammals, including friendly beluga, the white whale. Several other dolphin species, such as harbour porpoises, appear less frequently while larger whales such as bowhead, humpback [10] and rorquals, northern bottlenose, orcas have been considered as rare visitors to the waters [11] while actual frequency of occurrences within White Sea basin is not specified. [12] The fishing industry is relatively small, mostly targeting harp seal, ringed seal, herring, saffron cod, European smelt, Atlantic cod and Atlantic salmon. There is a developing seaweed industry. [1] [2] [3]

The White Sea is an important traffic centre of northwestern Russia, interconnecting various economic regions and providing an outlet to the foreign routes. The White Sea–Baltic Canal links it through Lake Onega to the Baltic Sea and the major city and port of Saint Petersburg. The Baltic Sea, in turn, is connected by the Volga–Baltic Waterway to the Volga River, Black, Caspian, and Azov seas. The major ports on the White Sea are Arkhangelsk, Belomorsk, Onega, Mezen, Kem, Kandalaksha and Umba. Despite being frozen in winter, the sea remains navigable all year around because of deployment of icebreakers. [2]

Related Research Articles

Arkhangelsk City in Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia

Arkhangelsk, also known in English as Archangel and Archangelsk, is a city and the administrative center of Arkhangelsk Oblast, in the north of European Russia. It lies on both banks of the Northern Dvina near its exit into the White Sea. The city spreads for over 40 kilometers (25 mi) along the banks of the river and numerous islands of its delta. Arkhangelsk was the chief seaport of medieval and early modern Russia until 1703. A 1,133-kilometer-long (704 mi) railway runs from Arkhangelsk to Moscow via Vologda and Yaroslavl, and air travel is served by the Talagi Airport and a smaller Vaskovo Airport. As of the 2010 Census, the city's population was 348,783, down from 356,051 recorded in the 2002 Census, and further down from 415,921 recorded in the 1989 Census.

Kola Peninsula peninsula in the northwest of Russia

The Kola Peninsula is a peninsula in the far northwest of Russia. Constituting the bulk of the territory of Murmansk Oblast, it lies almost completely inside the Arctic Circle and is bordered by the Barents Sea in the north and the White Sea in the east and southeast. The city of Murmansk is the most populous human settlement on the peninsula, with a population of over 300,000 as of the 2010 Census.

Lake Onega freshwater lake in Russia, second largest in Europe

Lake Onega is a lake in the north-west European part of Russia, located on the territory of Republic of Karelia, Leningrad Oblast and Vologda Oblast. It belongs to the basin of the Baltic Sea, Atlantic Ocean, and is the second largest lake in Europe after Lake Ladoga. The lake is fed by about 50 rivers and is drained by the Svir.

Northern Dvina river in Russia

The Northern Dvina is a river in northern Russia flowing through the Vologda Oblast and Arkhangelsk Oblast into the Dvina Bay of the White Sea. Along with the Pechora River to the east, it drains most of Northwest Russia into the Arctic Ocean. It should not be confused with Western Dvina.

Arkhangelsk Oblast First-level administrative division of Russia

Arkhangelsk Oblast is a federal subject of Russia. It includes the Arctic archipelagos of Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya, as well as the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea. Arkhangelsk Oblast also has administrative jurisdiction over the Nenets Autonomous Okrug (NAO). Including the NAO, Arkhangelsk Oblast has an area of 587,400 km2. Its population was 1,227,626 as of the 2010 Census.

Pomors ethnic group

Pomors or Pomory are an ethnographic group descended from Russian settlers, primarily from Veliky Novgorod, living on the White Sea coasts and the territory whose southern border lies on a watershed which separates the White Sea river basin from the basins of rivers that flow south.

Mezen (river) river in Russia

The Mezen is a river in Udorsky District of the Komi Republic and in Leshukonsky and Mezensky Districts of Arkhangelsk Oblast in Russia. Its mouth is located in the Mezen Bay of the White Sea. Mezen is one of the biggest rivers of European Russia. It is 857 kilometres (533 mi) long, and the area of its basin 78,000 square kilometres (30,000 sq mi). The principal tributaries of the Mezen are the Bolshaya Loptyuga (left), the Pyssa (left), the Mezenskaya Pizhma (right), the Sula (right), the Kyma (right), the Vashka (left), the Pyoza (right), and the Kimzha (left).

Onega (river) river in Russia

The Onega is a river in Kargopolsky, Plesetsky, and Onezhsky Districts of Arkhangelsk Oblast in Russia. The Onega connects Lake Lacha with the Onega Bay in the White Sea southwest of Arkhangelsk, flowing in the northern direction. The discharge at the source is 74.1 cubic metres per second (2,620 cu ft/s) and at the mouth is 505 cubic metres per second (17,800 cu ft/s). The river is 416 kilometres (258 mi) long, and the area of its basin 56,900 square kilometres (22,000 sq mi). Its main tributaries are the Voloshka (right), the Kena (left), the Mosha (right), the Kodina (right), and the Kozha (left). The major tributary of the Lake Lacha is the Svid.

Volga–Baltic Waterway Series of canals and rivers in Russia

The Volga–Baltic Waterway, formerly known as the Mariinsk Canal System, is a series of canals and rivers in Russia which link the Volga River with the Baltic Sea via the Neva River. Like the Volga–Don Canal, the Volga–Baltic Waterway connects the biggest lake on Earth, the Caspian Sea, to the World Ocean. Its overall length between Cherepovets and Lake Onega is 368 kilometres (229 mi).

Onega Bay bay

The Onega Bay is located in the Republic of Karelia and Arkhangelsk Oblast in Northwestern Russia, west of the city of Arkhangelsk. It is the southernmost of four large bays and gulfs of the White Sea, the others being the Dvina Bay, the Mezen Bay, and the Kandalaksha Gulf. The area of the bay is 6,630 square kilometres (2,560 sq mi). The Onega Bay is 185 kilometres (115 mi) long and 50 kilometres (31 mi)-100 kilometres (62 mi) wide. The average depth of the bay is 16 metres (52 ft), and the maximum depth is 36 metres (118 ft). The bay freezes in winter.

Dvina Bay bay

The Dvina Bay is located in Arkhangelsk Oblast in Northwestern Russia. It is one of four large bays and gulfs of the White Sea, the others being the Mezen Bay, the Onega Bay, and the Kandalaksha Gulf. The two main river emptying into the Dvina Bay is the Northern Dvina River, while the two cities on the bay are Arkhangelsk and Severodvinsk. The Dvina Bay is 93 kilometres (58 mi) long and 130 kilometres (81 mi) wide. Administratively, the coast and the islands belong to Primorsky District of Arkhangelsk Oblast.

Kandalaksha Gulf bay

The Kandalaksha Gulf, Finnish: Kantalahti) is located in the Republic of Karelia, and Murmansk Oblast in northwestern Russia. Forming the north-western corner of the White Sea, it is one of four large bays and gulfs of this sea, the others being the Onega Bay (south-west), the Dvina Bay (south), and the Mezen Bay.

Mezen Bay bay

The Mezen Bay is located in Arkhangelsk Oblast and Nenets Autonomous Okrug in Northwestern Russia. It is one of four large bays and gulfs of the White Sea, the others being the Dvina Bay, the Onega Bay, and the Kandalaksha Gulf. The Mezen Bay is the easternmost of these, as it lies to the south of the Kanin Peninsula. Morzhovets Island lies at the entrance of the bay. The two main rivers emptying into the Mezen Bay are the Kuloy River, and the Mezen River. The area of the bay is 6,630 square kilometres (2,560 sq mi). The Mezen Bay is 105 kilometres (65 mi) long and 97 kilometres (60 mi) wide. The tides in the Mezen Bay are up to 10 metres (33 ft) high and are the biggest in the White Sea. The northern part of the bay, just south of Morzhovets Island, is crossed by the Arctic Circle.

Kholmogorsky District District in Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia

Kholmogorsky District is an administrative district (raion), one of the twenty-one in Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia. Municipally, it is incorporated as Kholmogorsky Municipal District. It is located in the center of the oblast and borders with Pinezhsky District in the east, Vinogradovsky District in the southeast, the territory of the town of oblast significance of Mirny in the south, Plesetsky District in the southwest, and with Primorsky District in the northwest. The area of the district is 16,827 square kilometers (6,497 sq mi). Its administrative center is the rural locality of Kholmogory. District's population: 25,061 (2010 Census); 30,797 (2002 Census); 35,891 (1989 Census). The population of Kholmogory accounts for 16.6% of the district's total population.

Northwest Russia one of traditional regions of Russia; not to be confused with political Northwestern Federal District

Northwest Russia or Northern European Russia can be roughly defined as that part of European Russia bounded by Finland, the Arctic Ocean, the Ural Mountains and the east-flowing part of the Volga River. Although it was never a political unit there is some reason for treating it as a distinct region.

Arkhangelsk Governorate governorate of the Russian Empire

Arkhangelsk Governorate was an administrative division of the Russian Empire and Russian SFSR, which existed from 1796 until 1929. Its seat was in Arkhangelsk. The governorate was located in the north of the Russian Empire and bordered Tobolsk Governorate in the south-east, Vologda Governorate in the south, Olonets Governorate in the southwest, Sweden in the west, and Norway in north-west. In the north, the governorate was limited by the White and Barents Seas.

The Kuloy-Pinega Canal is a canal connecting the rivers Kuloy and Pinega in Northern Russia at their closest points. The length of the canal is 8 kilometres (5.0 mi). The canal was constructed in 1928.

Port of Arkhangelsk Port in Russia

Port of Arkhangelsk is a major seaport at Arkhangelsk, located at the mouth of the Northern Dvina River, 50 km from the Dvina Bay of the White Sea. The important point links with coastal areas of the Russian North. For much of Russia's history this was Russia's main centre of international maritime trade, conducted by the so-called Pomors from Kholmogory.

White Sea Rift System

The White Sea Rift System is a complex of rifts manifested as numerous individual grabens located chiefly in the White Sea but including onshore areas and a strip of the Barents Sea. The rifts run in a subparallel manner from northwest to southeast where the rift system continues under the East European Platform. The system or complex originated due to extensional tectonics acting during the Middle to Late Riphean in the Proterozoic. This tectonic environment is believed to have been related to the break-up of the ancient supercontinent Palaeopangea. During the Riphean the graben structures were filled by Jotnian sediments. During the Middle Paleozoic the rift system was reactivated resulting in intrusion of alkaline magmas. In the Late Cenozoic the rift system was reactivated again resulting in the formation of the modern White Sea.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 White Sea, Great Soviet Encyclopedia (in Russian)
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 White Sea, Encyclopædia Britannica on-line
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A. D. Dobrovolskyi and B. S. Zalogin "Seas of USSR. White Sea", Moscow University (1982) (in Russian)
  4. "Limits of Oceans and Seas, 3rd edition" (PDF). International Hydrographic Organization. 1953. Retrieved 6 February 2010.
  5. 1 2 Kholmogory web portal (in Russian)
  6. Compare: March, G. Patrick (1996). "3: Ivan IV and the Muscovite Drang nach Osten". Eastern Destiny: Russia in Asia and the North Pacific. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers. p. 26. ISBN   9780275956486 . Retrieved 8 February 2017. It was in pursuit of a northeast passage that the English under the leadership of Richard Chancellor arrived in Kholmogory in 1553.
  7. Henryk Zins England and the Baltic in the Elizabethan era, Manchester University Press, 1972 ISBN   0-87471-117-7 pp. 35,38
  8. Isabel De Madariaga Ivan the Terrible, Yale University Press, 2006 ISBN   0-300-11973-9 p. 121
  9. "Kholmogory". Archived from the original on 9 February 2009. Retrieved 10 September 2010.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link). lomonosovo.ru (in Russian)
  10. День кита.
  11. Filatov N., Pozdnyakov D., Johannessen M.O.,, Pettersson H.L.,, Bobylev P.L., 2005, White Sea: Its Marine Environment and Ecosystem Dynamics Influenced by Global Change, pp.174, Praxis Publishing, Springer, retrieved on 06-05-2014
  12. Большой гость в Белом море