The Fram Strait is the passage between Greenland and Svalbard, with rough latitudinal boundaries 77°N and 81°N. The Greenland and Norwegian Seas lie south of Fram Strait, while the Nansen Basin of the Arctic Ocean lies to the north. Fram Strait is noted for being the only deep connection between the Arctic Ocean and the world ocean. The dominate oceanographic features of the region are the West Spitsbergen Current on the east side of the strait and the East Greenland Current on the west. Fram Strait is named after the Norwegian ship Fram, which drifted across the Arctic for two years before exiting the Arctic at Fram Strait in 1896.
The use of the name "Fram Strait" for the passage between Spitsbergen and Greenland appears to have come into common use in the oceanographic literature in the 1970s. One source suggests the name originated in the Russian scientific literature.. While in common use, particularly in the oceanographic scientific literature, the name appears to be unofficial.
Fram Strait is the only deep-water connection between the world oceans and the Arctic. The sill connecting the Arctic and Fram Strait is 2545 m deep. Other gateways are the Barents Sea Opening (BSO), the Bering Strait and various small channels in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. They are all shallower than Fram Strait, leaving Fram Strait the only route by which deep Atlantic water can enter the Arctic Ocean. Within Fram Strait the Molloy Deep is the deepest point of the Arctic with depths up to 5.6 km.
Atlantic water is a water mass originating in the Atlantic and transported northward by the West Spitsbergen Current in the east of the strait. The sub-surface flow has a strong seasonality with a minimal volume transport in winter. The relatively warm Atlantic water also transports internal energy into the Arctic Ocean . The northward velocity is maximum in winter, the heat transport is therefore highest in winter.
The Fram Strait area is located downwind of the Transpolar Drift and therefore covered by multi-year ice in the West of the strait, next to the coast of Greenland. Approximately 90% of sea ice exported from the Arctic is transported by the Eastern Greenland Current.
The amount of sea ice passing through the Fram Strait varies from year to year and affects the global climate through its influence on thermohaline circulation. Sea ice essentially corresponds to fresh water, its salt content of 4 per mil compares to about 35 per mil for sea water.
The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) and the Norwegian Polar Institute perform longterm monitoring studies in Fram Strait to obtain volume- and energy-budgets through this choke point. The observations also allow to assess the development of the Arctic Ocean as a sink for terrestrial organic carbon. The AWI maintains a transect of up to 16 moorings across Fram Strait since 1997 with a longitudinal spacing of roughly 25 km. In up to five different depths, the water velocity is observed using rotor current meters. Additional CTD-sensors log the temperature and the salinity of the water column. The costs of a mooring are high (around 50 k€), but the most expensive part of the monitoring is the deployment and recovery of the moorings, a single day of RV Polarstern costs more than 50 k€.
It is planned to convert combine biological measurements in the so-called AWI back yard (German: Hausgarten) with the oceanographic measurements within a future cabled observatory Frontiers in Marine Arctic Monitoring (FRAM). The main advantage is "unlimited energy supply for scientific instruments" and "real-time data" acquisition.
Importance for climate
Computer simulations suggest that 60 to 70% of the fluctuation of the sea ice flowing through the Fram Strait is correlated with fluctuation of 6–7 years in which the Icelandic Low Pressure system extends eastward into the Barents Sea. The warming in this area has likely amplified Arctic shrinkage, and serves as a positive feedback mechanism for transporting more internal energy to the Arctic Ocean.
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- W.-J. von Appen, U. Schauer, R. Somavilla, E. Bauerfeind, A. Beszczynska-Möller, Exchange of warming deep waters across Fram Strait, Deep Sea Research I, 103, 86-100, 2015 doi:10.1016/j.dsr.2015.06.003
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- Daily Satellite Picture
- Temperature, salinity and volume fluxes in the Fram Strait