ISSN 1063-0740, Russian Journal of Marine Biology, 2007, Vol. 33, No. 1, pp. 49–53. © Pleiades Publishing, Ltd., 2007.
Original Russian Text © V.Ya. Berger, I.M. Primakov, 2007, published in Biologiya Morya.
The White Sea is considered to be a water body with
low productivity. This opinion was established after
publication of several papers providing fragmentary
data about low values of benthos and zooplankton
abundance in some areas of the White Sea [14, 15, 36].
Obviously, the materials available at that time were not
adequate to make any general conclusions about the
low productivity of pelagial and benthic ecosystems in
the entire White Sea. However, such a conclusion has
become axiomatic for most marine biologists for at
least two major reasons.
First, the domination of this point of view was due
to the authority of L.A. Zenkevich, who advanced this
opinion in his well-known monograph “Biologiya
morei SSSR” . Many hydrobiologists used it as a
handbook and even at the present time it remains an
important source of information.
Second, a long-term decline in the ﬁshery, which
was observed in the White Sea in the 20th century, was
easily explained by the low bioproductivity of this
water body. However, the sharp decrease in the White
Sea ﬁshery resulted from other reasons, ﬁrst of all, irra-
tional ﬁshing practices and disturbances in the repro-
duction of herring, salmon, algae, and other members
of the biological community .
As it can be seen from the results of recent investi-
gations, [2, 3, 13, 24, 25, 30, 37–40, et al.] the former
estimations of plankton and benthos abundance [14, 15,
36] constitute no more than one tenth of the actual val-
ues. It is not possible to use these former values to dis-
cuss the low productivity of White Sea ecosystems. To
estimate the latter, we decided to analyze both original
and literature materials characterizing the productivity
of the White Sea. As a starting point, we tried to esti-
mate the production of phytoplankton and to compare
the level of primary production in the White Sea with
that in the other Arctic seas of Russia.
The level of primary production of plankton
microalgae in a given water body primarily depends on
the intensity of solar radiation, phytoplankton abun-
dance, size (thickness) of photic layer, temperature,
availability of biogenic elements for phytoplankton,
and the duration of the growing season. In general,
these parameters are determined by particular climatic
conditions and the hydrological peculiarities of the sea.
The thickness of the photic layer in the White Sea
ranges from 10 to 25 m, but, as a rule, does not exceed
15 m. The growing season is longest in the Kandalak-
sha Bay, where it continues for 180–210 days per year;
in the regions called Gorlo (
neck”—a narrow strait connecting the White and Bar-
ents seas) and Voronka (
region to the north of Gorlo) it is shorter and averages
138 and 123 days respectively [5, 11, 16, 33].
The history of studies on primary production in the
White Sea began with an attempt to estimate the annual
phytoplankton production, starting from the balance of
biogenic elements, which was undertaken by Voronkov
in 1941 . The annual production, calculated as a
mean for three years and for three observation points,
appeared to be 2000 t of wet weight of plankton algae
per 1 km
of sea water area.
Since the 1960s, so-called bottle (radiocarbon and
oxygen) methods of primary production determination
were widely adopted. In 1966 Kabanova  per-
formed the ﬁrst study on the spatial distribution of phy-
toplankton production in Kandalaksha Bay using the
radiocarbon method. Results of this study showed that
throughout the Kandalaksha Bay the daily production
of phytoplankton in August–September 1966 ranged
from 0.0001 to 0.218 g C/m
averaging 0.112 g C/m
Integrated studies of the seasonal dynamics in phy-
toplankton communities and the production character-
istics of the latter were initiated in 1967 by scientists of
Moscow State University headed by Prof.
Assessment of Primary Production in the White Sea
V. Ya. Berger and I. M. Primakov
Zoological Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg, 199034 Russia
Received September 21, 2006
—The literature and original data on the primary production of phytoplankton in the White Sea are
analyzed. By this parameter, the White Sea is signiﬁcantly inferior only to the Chukchi Sea; it is similar to the
Barents Sea, and exceeds other Russian Arctic seas by two to three times (the Kara Sea, Laptev Sea, and East
primary production, phytoplankton, bioproductivity, White Sea.