The spatial distribution of heat and freshwater content and potential energy of a several hundred metre thick surface layer are computed for the Nordic seas and adjacent parts of the northern North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean using a total of almost 100 000 hydrographic stations. The fields clearly show the major features of the area's circulation, with warm salty water in the eastern part and fresher, colder water in the western part. Comparisons with published estimates show that the potential energy field, representing the baroclinic part of the flow, accounts for about 30 % of the total flow but roughly 100 % of the flow of Polar Water in the northern part of the East Greenland Current, about 50 % of the total flow in the Norwegian Atlantic Current, and just a small fraction of the flow in the eastern part of Fram Strait. This suggests that the barotropic circulation is quite important in many parts of the Nordic seas. The barotropic circulation is also clearly seen by its effects on the integrated fields with isolines following deep bathymetric contours. We speculate that the barotropic circulation in combination with topographic obstacles, like the Greenland–Scotland Ridge and the ridge system in the Jan Mayen area, may have large impact on the spreading of freshwater and heat in the Nordic seas.