The Arctic plays a fundamental role in the climate system and shows significant sensitivity to anthropogenic climate forcing and the ongoing climate change. Accelerated changes in the Arctic are already observed, including elevated air and ocean temperatures, declines of the summer sea ice extent and sea ice thickness influencing the albedo and CO2 exchange, melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and increased thawing of surrounding permafrost regions. In turn, the hydrological cycle in the high latitude and Arctic is expected to undergo changes although to date it is challenging to accurately quantify this. Moreover, changes in the temperature and salinity of surface waters in the Arctic Ocean and Nordic Seas may also influence the flow of dense water through the Denmark Strait, which are found to be a precursor for changes in the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation with a lead time of around 10 years (Hawkins and Sutton in Geophys Res Lett 35:L11603, 2008). Evidently changes in the Arctic and surrounding seas have far reaching influences on regional and global environment and climate variability, thus emphasizing the need for advanced quantitative understanding of the ocean circulation and transport variability in the high latitude and Arctic Ocean. In this respect, this study combines in situ hydrographical data, surface drifter data and direct current meter measurements, with coupled sea ice–ocean models, radar altimeter data and the latest GOCE-based geoid in order to estimate and assess the quality, usefulness and validity of the new GOCE-derived mean dynamic topography for studies of the ocean circulation and transport estimates in the Nordic Seas and Arctic Ocean.