How much do most people know about the Greenland Sea? Perhaps it’s obvious that because a lot of it is within the Arctic Circle it’s going to be cold and probably full of icebergs.
If you look at a Greenland Sea map, you'll see that it’s near Greenland. But, there’s so much more to discover. Read on to find out everything you need to know about this 1.2 million square kilometer body of water.
Where is the Greenland Sea?
The Greenland Sea is one of the bodies of water between Iceland, Norway, the Svalbard archipelago; and its namesake, Greenland. It's also bordered by other bodies of water: to the north is the Arctic Ocean, to the south-east the Norwegian Sea and to the south-west by a passage called the Denmark Strait which, confusingly, is nowhere near mainland Denmark. The large majority of the sea is above the Arctic Circle although the parts nearest to Iceland are slightly south of it.
How cold is the Greenland Sea?
In a word: very. Water temperatures have been rising steadily since 1985, but they're always below freezing. The highest temperatures ever recorded there have all been in the last few years, but the warmest was just over -0.8°C. Though this is still pretty cold, it’s too warm for scientists, who have noted that temperatures in the sea are rising 10 times faster than average global rates.
What lives in the Greenland Sea?
Medieval Greenland Sea maps show it to be populated by giant octopuses, flying turtles and a horse-fish hybrid. Though the truth is a little less fantastical, this body of water is home to some very interesting, real animals. Fish, birds, mammals and invertebrates all call it home.
Perhaps the most interesting-looking inhabitants of the sea are the hooded seals, which have spotted pelts and an inflatable ‘bladder’ on their heads. These waters are one of their main breeding grounds, but seal hunting in the area and changes in climate has sadly left them an endangered species.
Other endangered animals that rely on the Greenland Sea include a large number of whales. The blue, fin and sperm whales are all found here and they're all on the endangered species list, as are the narwhal and beluga.
Is climate change having an impact on the Greenland Sea?
With sea ice melting at its fastest rate in 1,500 years, sea levels are rising fairly rapidly in Greenland, which is having a direct impact on marine life. Meltwater from icebergs releases large amounts of fresh water into the sea which results in the volume of salt in the water being diluted. This means there are fewer nutrients in the water for the plankton and algae to eat. Less plankton means less food for the fish, and falling numbers of fish means fewer marine mammals – if this trend continues, these waters could have a much smaller selection of inhabitants in the next few centuries or even decades.
Teeming with life, despite the Arctic temperatures, the Greenland Sea is a home to more than just icebergs. These waters provide the ideal conditions for seals, whales and many fascinating fish to thrive, which is why the fact that it's being impacted by climate change – as evidenced by the decrease in plankton and fish numbers – is something we should all be concerned about. Whale watchers and seal enthusiasts should visit now before it’s too late.