Shores of the Barents (Murman
) Sea. From "Tabula Russiae", Joan Blaeu's, Amsterdam, 1614.
The southern half of the Barents Sea, including the ports of Murmansk (Russia) and Vardø (Norway) remain ice-free year round due to the warm North Atlantic drift. In September, the entire Barents Sea is more or less completely ice-free. Until the Winter War (1939–40), Finland's territory also reached to the Barents Sea, with the harbor at Petsamo being Finland's only ice-free winter harbor.
There are three main types of water masses in the Barents Sea: Warm, salty Atlantic water (temperature >3 °C, salinity >35) from the North Atlantic drift, cold Arctic water (temperature <0 °C, salinity <35) from the north, and warm, but not very salty coastal water (temperature >3 °C, salinity <34.7). Between the Atlantic and Polar waters, a front called the Polar Front is formed. In the western parts of the sea (close to Bear Island), this front is determined by the bottom topography and is therefore relatively sharp and stable from year to year, while in the east (towards Novaya Zemlya), it can be quite diffuse and its position can vary a lot between years.
The lands of Novaya Zemlya attained most of their early Holocene coastal deglaciation approximately 10,000 years before present.
The International Hydrographic Organization defines the limits of the "Barentsz Sea" [sic] as follows:
- On the west: The northeastern limit of the Norwegian Sea [A line joining the southernmost point of West Spitzbergen [sic] to North Cape of Bear Island, through this island to Cape Bull and thence on to North Cape in Norway (25°45'E)].
- On the northwest: The eastern shore of West Spitzbergen [sic], Hinlopen Strait up to 80° latitude north; south and east coasts of North-East Land [island of Nordaustlandet] to Cape Leigh Smith (80°05′N 28°00′E / 80°05′N 28°00′E / 80.083; 28.000).
- On the north: Cape Leigh Smith across the Islands Bolshoy Ostrov (Great Island) [Storøya], Gilles [Kvitøya] and Victoria; Cape Mary Harmsworth (southwestern extremity of Alexandra Land) along the northern coasts of Franz-Josef Land as far as Cape Kohlsaat (81°14′N 65°10′E / 81°14′N 65°10′E / 81.233; 65.167).
- On the east: Cape Kohlsaat to Cape Zhelaniya (Desire); west and southwest coast of Novaya Zemlya to Cape Kussov Noss and thence to western entrance Cape, Dolgaya Bay (70°15′N 58°25′E / 70°15′N 58°25′E / 70.250; 58.417) on Vaigach Island. Through Vaigach Island to Cape Greben; thence to Cape Belyi Noss on the mainland.
- On the south: The northern limit of the White Sea [A line joining Svyatoi Nos (Murmansk Coast, 39°47'E) and Cape Kanin].
Other islands in the Barents Sea include Chaichy and Timanets.