Fram Strait

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Main currents in Fram Strait. The West Spitsbergen Current (in red) transport relative warm and saline water to the North. The East Greenland Current (in blue) flows southward and transports fresh water (both fluid and solid as sea ice) out of the Arctic Ocean.

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.[1] 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.

Name Usage[edit]

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.[2] One source suggests the name originated in the Russian scientific literature.[3]. While in common use, particularly in the oceanographic scientific literature, the name appears to be unofficial.[4]


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.[5] 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[edit]

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.

In the past century, the sea surface temperature at Fram Strait has on average warmed roughly 1.9°C (3.5°F), and is 1.4°C (2.5°F) warmer than during the Medieval Warm Period.

Polar water[edit]


The East Greenland Current flows southward on the Greenland Shelf. The water mass is relatively fresh.

Sea ice[edit]

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.[6]

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.

Long-time observations[edit]

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.[7] 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.[8]

Past projects[edit]

The ASOF-N project aimed measure time-series of ocean fluxes between the Arctic and the Atlantic. Part of the work was performed at Alfred Wegener Institute.

Future plans[edit]

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.[9]

Importance for climate[edit]

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.[10] 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.[11]


  1. ^ Martin Klenke, Hans Werner Schenke: A new bathymetric model for the central Fram Strait. In: Marine geophysical researches 23, 2002, S. 367–378, doi:10.1023/A:1025764206736
  2. ^ K. Aagard, C. Darnall, P. Greisman, Year-long current measurements in the Greenland-Spitsbergen passage, Deep-Sea Research, 20, 1973, 743-746, url=
  3. ^ M. Dunbar, Ice regimes and ice transport in Nares Strait, Arctic, The Arctic Institute of North America, 26, 282-291, 1973, url=
  4. ^ Peter Wadhams: Ice in the Ocean, Gordon Breach Science Publishers, 364 pp., 2000, ISBN 90-5699-296-1
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ Woodgate 1999, Rudels 1999, cited in Gyorry 1999: The East Greenland Current
  7. ^ "Fram Strait: an integrated signal of changes in the Arctic Ocean". Norwegian Polar Institute. Retrieved 26 September 2012. 
  8. ^ Schramm, Stefanie (2012-09-27). "Am Ende der Eiszeit". DIE ZEIT (in German). pp. 44–45. 
  9. ^ Klages, Michael. "Hausgarten - the Arctic Deep Sea Observatory". Helmholtz Association. Retrieved 1 October 2012. 
  10. ^ Top Story - Atmospheric wave linked to sea ice flow near Greenland, study finds - August 28, 2002. (2002-08-28). Retrieved on 2010-08-31.
  11. ^ News, Science (January 28, 2011). "Warming North Atlantic Water Tied to Heating Arctic". ScienceDaily. Retrieved 31 January 2011. 

Coordinates: 78°0′N 0°0′W / 78.000°N -0.000°E / 78.000; -0.000