A country far north

Red: The Gulf Stream Light blu: The East-Greenland Stream Dark blue: Cold deep sea streams. Illustration: Tor Sponga.
Red: The Gulf Stream Light blu: The East-Greenland Stream Dark blue: Cold deep sea streams. Illustration: Tor Sponga.

Norway is a medium-sized, long and narrow country. It stretches from roughly 58 to 71 degrees latitude north. At a first glance at the map one might perhaps think that the northern parts could hardly support human settlement at all. However, the fact is that northern Norway has a far milder and more hospitable climate than other land areas at the same latitude. The main reason for this difference is the Gulf Stream, which brings large quantities of warm seawater northwards along the entire west and north coasts.

"A sea current with good supply of warm water…"
The Gulf Stream is one of the large global sea currents that are created by the earth’s rotation in an intricate interplay between different climatic zones. In the area around the equator huge masses of water flow westwards across the Atlantic Ocean. This warm water is then forced through the narrow Florida Strait northwards along the North American continent before being conducted eastwards into the northern part of the Atlantic, where it gradually mixes with colder waters from the Arctic Ocean. Warm water from the Atlantic flows into the North Sea both to the north of Scotland and up through the English Channel, from where it continues along the Norwegian coast right up to the Barents Sea. At its most concentrated the supply of water in this sea current is twenty times greater than the volume of water in all the world’s rivers combined! These enormous quantities of warm seawater created conditions that made agriculture and permanent settlement possible much farther north in Norway than in other places on the globe, providing ice-free harbours and sailing channels along the whole of the west and north coasts all the way to the Russian border. The confluence of the warm, salty Atlantic waters with fresher and colder mineral-rich waters from the Arctic Ocean and the rivers of Siberia contribute to make the Barents Sea one of the world’s most productive fishing grounds. As a result of their position in the north, Norwegians have throughout history have had easier access to arctic marine resources such as seals, whales and various fish species than other peoples. Norway has also played a significant role as a "polar nation", sponsoring voyages of discovery and research activity in arctic regions with consequent territorial claims: Svalbard, the occupation of East Greenland in the 1930s, and the claiming of Queen Maud Land in Antarctica. Norway’s position "at the top of Europe" also came to have great significance in the 1970s, when the coastal nations of the world obtained dominion over their adjacent maritime areas and thereby over the fish and other natural resources found there.

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