Site details

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2 stars - De facto protected because of geographical conditions and location
LTBR Reference Site

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Balsfjorden; looking east towards Storvasstind and Piggtind mountains. Photo: N Skjegstad

Synoptic description of site:

Balsfjord with the sidearm Ramfjord offers a wide variety of interesting and diverse habitats, especially suited for quantitative benthic studies.

Extensive description of site:

Balsfjord and Malangen are two interlinked fjords situated in the vicinity of Tromsų, northern Norway. Balsfjorden fjord, which is approximately 40 km long, has fairly shallow sills (10 and 35 m) and a maximum depth of 195 m in the central part of the fjord. Malangen is about 50 km long, has a wide open connection to the sea and a sill depth of about 200 m outside the mouth of the fjord. It is divided in two fjord basins of 460 and 250 m depth, respectively. The inner reaches of Malangen are generally ice-covered in winter but its main parts generally remain open. Also Balsfjorden generally remains ice-free due to strong surface currents. The fjords in conjunction represent typical coastal conditions in the area. As is typical for the area, both fjords are well-oxygenated all year, despite the presence of sills. The bottom-oxygen levels usually remain at least 70 to 80% saturation. In Balsfjorden, the water masses are stratified from May to September but are almost homogeneous due to extensive vertical mixing from late autumn until the end of April. The basin water stays cold year round (1-4°C). In Malangen, the water column comprises three main layers; an upper layer (0-30 m) dominated by down-fjord currents, an intermediate layer to sill depth with up-fjord currents and a bottom layer with weak currents. Malangen bottom water has a mean bottom temperature of 6.5°C. Balsfjorden, although shallower than Malangen, has an enclosed bottom basin, representing a sub-arctic environment. Malangen has a more open pattern of water exchange and is more typically Atlantic-influenced. The shores around Malangen and Balsfjorden comprise rocky and boulder beaches, with local sheltered coves with coarse sand. In some areas, the terrain slopes very steeply from the mountains to the bottom of the fjord.

Habitats present:
Seagrass beds 

Description of fauna and flora:

As a result of the hydrography, Balsfjorden on the bottom contains a typical arctic faunal composition, more so in fact than Atlantic-influenced fjords on the west coast of Svalbard, much further north. Malangen and the shallower parts of Balsfjord are more typical of north-Norwegian Atlantic-influenced fjords. Genetic studies have shown that the area contains several unique stocks of fish. Comprehensive inventories of many components of the biota have been published internationally during the last 30 years, but older records and descriptions also exist from the early 20th century. Inventories exist of the following taxa: Macrobenthos (Cnidaria, Polychaeta, Crustacea, Mollusca, Bryozoa, Echinodermata), Meiobenthos, Zooplankton (Copepoda, Cnidaria, Ctenophora, Euphausiacea, Chaetognatha), phytobenthos (green, brown and red macroalgae) and phytoplankton. Ecological and population data exist for fish and seabirds. In addition, there are numerous publications related to the biodiversity or physical environment in the area. Balsfjord has been the subject of a multi-disciplinary research programme studying water masses, plankton dynamics, particle sedimentation, and commercial fish and shell-fish species since the mid-1970s. There exists annual photographic documentation of fixed hard-bottom locations, carried out over an approximately 25 year period.

Human impact:

The area is not impacted by any industrial pollution, mining, dumping, dredging or major agricultural runoff. The main human activities in the marine area are hobby-fishing. No commercial fishing is carried out. The outer parts of the study area have limited boat traffic (mainly local ferries and service vessels), but the inner parts are rarely frequented.


The sites are easily accessible by road or boat from Tromsų (approximately 1 hour from the University). Tromsų itself is accessible by road, boat and air, but there are no direct international flights. The university offers affordable lodgings for students and visiting staff. Guest house and hotel accommodation is also available in Tromsų. The University of Tromsų has three research vessels that are available for charter (depending on availability). All vessels are equipped for diving and one is ice-going. The University has fully equipped laboratories and image-processing facilities. Akvaplan-niva, Polar Environmental Centre, also has a fully equipped benthic laboratory.

Available database and website:

At present, biodiversity records are held in databases from several institutes including the University of Tromsų, NIVA and Akvaplan-niva. A priority task for the near future will be to integrate the records into a single database for this site.

Dataset covering this area:


Commitment and ongoing research:

The Balsfjorden/Malangen complex has been extensively studied for several decades. Ongoing research and monitoring is carried out by the University of Tromsų (hard bottom benthos, phyto- and zooplankton). The Norwegian Institute for Fisheries Research carry out research on the invasive red king crab and fish populations. Akvaplan-niva, Polar Environmental Centre carry out studies on soft bottom macrofauna. The Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) studies migratory wading birds. The University of Tromsų has a committed and on-going research programme for hard bottom benthos, phyto- and zooplankton.

Additional Information:

See covering letter for comments on interesting research oppurtunities in high-latitude Atlantic fjords exposed to Arctic surface conditions.