The White Sea is a stunning natural phenomenon.

The White Sea is an enclosed sea and one of the smallest seas in Russia. It is a part of the Barents Sea, which separates the Kola Peninsula from the continent. It seems that the White Sea cuts into the mainland. The well-known city of the Russian North Archangelsk is located on the shore of the White Sea.

The map of the White Sea

The map of the White Sea (1855). The map bears the stamp of the “Volga” steamboat / “The chronicle of shipwrecks and other adversities of the Russian navy”

The natural water pump between the White and the Barents seas

The Kandalaksha Gulf of the White Sea near village Lesozavodsky

The Kandalaksha Gulf of the White Sea near village Lesozavodsky

The White and the Barents seas are connected by a natural water pump. While the water from the White Sea overflows to the Arctic Ocean, the Barents Sea becomes influenced by this current and forms its own reverse underflow.

How does it work? The major Russian rivers flow into the White Sea. For instance, the Northern Dvina, the Mezen or the Onega. They fill the White Sea with up to 215 cubic km of fresh water per year. The excesses of water go from the White Sea to the Barents Sea and form a current, which carries 2 200 cubic km in a year!

There is also a reverse current from the Barents Sea to the White Sea that preserves the salinity of the latter (salt water is more dense than fresh one). If it was not for an underwater sill between two seas, their water exchange would be even bigger. However, the White Sea gives the Barents Sea a large amount of water, the Barents Sea returns up to 90% of it.

The constant salinity of the White Sea

The current of salt water from the Barents Sea helps to stabilize the salinity of the White Sea. As a result, various water layers in the White Sea do not intermingle regardless of severe storms. In other words, all the fresh water brought by the rivers forms the upper layer of the White Sea, which then overflows to the Barents Sea.

This factor greatly influences the water exchange between the White and the Barents seas. Otherwise, the White Sea would have become a freshwater sea.

The petroglyphs of the White Sea Zalavruga

The petroglyphs of the White Sea were made from three to six thousand years ago. Zalavruga

The climate of the White Sea

Kovda village 1

Kovda village

The White Sea is practically surrounded by the land. The water exchange with the Barents Sea is also hindered by the uplifted bed at the seas conjunction. The warm Atlantic water hardly reaches the White Sea. The winter in this area is long and cold. If unclouded weather sets in, it can become quite frosty. The northern part of the White Sea is warmer because of the warm water from the Barents Sea.

Kovda village 3

Kovda village. Bright midnight sun

In the summer the weather over the White Sea is chilly and gloomy. Of course some years the temperature can rise up to 30 °C (86 °F) above zero in the southern part of the White Sea. However, the average summer temperature seldom exceeds 15 °C (59 °F) above zero.

During the summer the water in the sea warms up quickly because of the midnight sun but it also gets cold equally fast. Though even soundings in the southernmost parts of the White Sea never warm up higher than 15 °C (59 °F) above zero. Interestingly, only shallow water heats up. At a depth of 40-50 m (131-164 ft) the water temperature is always below zero.

Kovda village 2

Kovda village


The Solovetsky Islands are the best-known archipelago in the White Sea.

Although the Solovetsky Islands are 165 km (103 mi) from the polar circle, they remain a popular tourist attraction. The islands have become the center of Russian culture and spirituality. The history of Russia, spiritual pursuits and even palace coups left their imprint on this place.

Nowadays Solovki have acquired another role and have turned into the tourist center of the Russian North.


The surroundings of Belomorsk 1

The surroundings of Belomorsk

In the winter the White Sea turns into a real center of scuba-diving. The peak season starts when the sea gets covered with solid ice. The water of the White Sea is highly oxygenated throughout the year and it results into an extremely active sea life. The variety of species in the White Sea can be easily compared with that in some tropical seas.

The surroundings of Belomorsk 2

The surroundings of Belomorsk

However, ecotourists are not the only visitors of the White Sea. Fishermen come there to catch salmon annually or humpback salmon biennially.

The surroundings of Belomorsk 3

The surroundings of Belomorsk


The Pomors, who traditionally live in this area, cook cranberry, clusterberry, blueberry and cloudberry nastoikas (alcohol tinctures).


The White Sea is still a desirable destination for many tourists. 

Photos by Andrey Grachev

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