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Caspian Sea
As captured by the MODIS on the orbiting Terra satellite
Coordinates 40°N 51°E / 40°N 51°E / 40; 51Coordinates: 40°N 51°E / 40°N 51°E / 40; 51
Lake type Endorheic, Saline, Permanent, Natural
Primary inflows Volga River, Kura River, Terek River
Primary outflows Evaporation
Catchment area 3,626,000 km2 (1,400,000 sq mi)[1]
Basin countries Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan
Surface area 371,000 km2 (143,000 sq mi)
Average depth 184 m (604 ft)
Water volume 78,200 km3 (18,800 cu mi)
Residence time 250 years
Surface elevation -28 m (−91.9 ft)
Islands numerous (see article)
Settlements Baku (Azerbaijan), Rasht (Iran), Aktau (Kazakhstan), Makhachkala (Russia), Türkmenbaşy (Turkmenistan) (see article)
References [1]

The Caspian Sea (Azerbaijani: Xəzər Dənizi, Russian: Каспийское море, Persian: دریای مازندران یا دریای خزر (Daryâ-ye Mâzandarân)) is the largest enclosed body of water on Earth by area, variously classed as the world's largest lake or a full-fledged sea.[2][3] The sea has a surface area of 371,000 square kilometres (143,244 sq mi) and a volume of 78,200 cubic kilometres (18,761 cu mi).[4] It is in an endorheic basin (it has no outflows) and is bounded by northern Iran, southern Russia, western Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and eastern Azerbaijan. It has a maximum depth of about 1,025 metres (3,363 ft).

The ancient inhabitants of its littoral perceived the Caspian as an ocean, probably because of its saltiness and seeming boundlessness. It has a salinity of approximately 1.2%, about a third the salinity of most seawater. Caspian is called Qazvin (قزوين or بحر قزوين) on ancient maps. In Iran, it is sometimes referred to as Daryâ-ye Mâzandarân (دریای مازندران).


Geological history

Like the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea is a remnant of the ancient Paratethys Sea. The Caspian Sea became landlocked about 5.5 million years ago due to tectonic uplift and a fall in sea level. During warm and dry climatic periods, the landlocked sea has all but dried up, depositing evaporitic sediments like halite that have become covered by wind-blown deposits and were sealed off as an evaporite sink[5] when cool, wet climates refilled the basin.[6] Due to the current inflow of fresh water, the Caspian Sea is a fresh-water lake in its northern portions. It is more saline on the Iranian shore, where the catchment basin contributes little flow. Currently, the mean salinity of the Caspian is one third that of the Earth's oceans. The Garabogazköl embayment, which dried up when water flow from the main body of the Caspian was blocked in the 1980s but has since been restored, routinely exceeds oceanic salinity by a factor of 10.[7]


The Caspian Sea is the largest inland body of water in the world and accounts for 40 to 44 percent of the total lacustrine waters of the world.[8] The coastlines of the Caspian are shared by Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan. The Caspian is divided into three distinct physical regions: the Northern, Middle, and Southern Caspian.[9] The North-Middle boundary is the Mangyshlak threshold, which runs through Chechen Island and Cape Tiub-Karagan. The Middle-South boundary is the Apsheron threshold, a sill of tectonic origin[10] that runs through Zhiloi Island and Cape Kuuli.[11] The Garabogazköl bay is the saline eastern inlet of the Caspian, which is part of Turkmenistan and at times has been a lake in its own right due to the isthmus which cuts it off from the Caspian.

Divisions between the three regions are dramatic. The Northern Caspian only includes the Caspian shelf,[12] and is characterized as very shallow; it accounts for less than one percent of the total water volume with an average depth of only 5–6 metres (16–20 ft). The sea noticeably drops off towards the Middle Caspian, where the average depth is 190 metres (623 ft).[11] The Southern Caspian is the deepest, with a depth that reaches over 1,000 metres (3,281 ft). The Middle and Southern Caspian account for 33 percent and 66 percent of the total water volume, respectively.[9] The northern portion of the Caspian Sea typically freezes in the winter, and in the coldest winters, ice will form in the south.

Over 130 rivers provide inflow to the Caspian, with the Volga River being the largest. A second affluent, the Ural River, flows in from the north, and the Kura River flows into the sea from the west. In the past, the Amu Darya (Oxus) of Central Asia in the east often changed course to empty into the Caspian through a now-desiccated riverbed called the Uzboy River, as did the Syr Darya farther north. The Caspian also has several small islands; they are primarily located in the North and have a collective land area of roughly 2,000 km2 (770 sq mi). Adjacent to the North Caspian is the Caspian Depression, a low-lying region 27 metres (89 ft) below sea level. The Central Asian steppes stretch across the northeast coast, while the Caucasus mountains hug the Western shore. The biomes to both the north and east are characterized by cold, continental deserts. Conversely, the climate to the southwest and south are generally warm with uneven elevation due to a mix of highlands and mountain ranges; the drastic changes in climate alongside the Caspian have led to a great deal of biodiversity in the region.[7]


An aerial view of the southern Caspian coast as viewed from atop the Alborz mountains in Mazandaran, Iran

The Caspian Sea holds great numbers of sturgeon, which yield eggs that are processed into caviar. In recent years overfishing has threatened the sturgeon population to the point that environmentalists advocate banning sturgeon fishing completely until the population recovers. However, the high price of sturgeon caviar allows fisherman to afford bribes to ensure the authorities look the other way, making regulations in many locations ineffective.[13] Caviar harvesting further endangers the fish stocks, since it targets reproductive females.

The Caspian seal (Phoca caspica, Pusa caspica in some sources), which is endemic to the Caspian Sea, is one of very few seal species that live in inland waters (see also Baikal seal). The area has given its name to several species of birds, including the Caspian gull and the Caspian tern. There are several species and subspecies of fish endemic to the Caspian Sea, including the Kutum (also known as Caspian white fish), Caspian roach, Caspian bream (some report that the Bream occurring in the Aral Sea is the same subspecies), and a Caspian "salmon" (a subspecies of trout, Salmo trutta caspiensis). The "Caspian salmon" is critically endangered.[13]

Environmental issues

The Volga River, the largest in Europe, drains 20% of the European land area and is the source of 80% of the Caspian’s freshwater inflow. Its lower reaches are heavily developed with numerous unregulated releases of chemical and biological pollutants. Although existing data is sparse and of questionable quality, there is ample evidence to suggest that the Volga is one of the principal sources of transboundary contaminants into the Caspian. The magnitude of oil and gas extraction and transport activity constitutes a risk to water quality. Underwater oil and gas pipelines have been constructed or proposed, increasing potential environmental threats.[14]

Hydrological characteristics

Iran's Northern Caspian Hyrcanian mixed forests is created by the moisture captured from the Caspian sea and the Alborz mountain range of Iran, Gilan.

The Caspian has characteristics common to both seas and lakes. It is often listed as the world's largest lake, though it is not a freshwater lake. The Caspian became landlocked about 5.5 million years ago due to plate tectonics.[8] The Volga River (about 80% of the inflow) and the Ural River discharge into the Caspian Sea, but it has no natural outflow other than by evaporation. Thus the Caspian ecosystem is a closed basin, with its own sea level history that is independent of the eustatic level of the world's oceans. The level of the Caspian has fallen and risen, often rapidly, many times over the centuries. Some Russian historians claim that a medieval rising of the Caspian, perhaps caused by the Amu Darya changing its inflow to the Caspian from the 1200s to the 1500s, caused the coastal towns of Khazaria, such as Atil, to flood. In 2004, the water level was -28 metres, or 28 metres (92 ft) below sea level.

Over the centuries, Caspian Sea levels have changed in synchronicity with the estimated discharge of the Volga, which in turn depends on rainfall levels in its vast catchment basin. Precipitation is related to variations in the amount of North Atlantic depressions that reach the interior, and they in turn are affected by cycles of the North Atlantic Oscillation. Thus levels in the Caspian sea relate to atmospheric conditions in the North Atlantic thousands of miles to the north and west. These factors make the Caspian Sea a valuable place to study the causes and effects of global climate change.

The last short-term sea-level cycle started with a sea-level fall of 3 m (9.84 ft) from 1929 to 1977, followed by a rise of 3 m (9.84 ft) from 1977 until 1995. Since then smaller oscillations have taken place.[15]

Human history

The 17th Century cossak rebel and pirate Stenka Razin, on a raid in the Caspian (Vasily Surikov, 1906).

Discoveries in the Huto cave near the town of Behshahr, Mazandaran south of the Caspian in Iran, suggest human habitation of the area as early as 75,000 years ago.[16]

In classical antiquity among Greeks and Persians it was called the Hyrcanian Ocean. In Persian antiquity, as well as in modern Iran, it is known as the Mazandaran sea (Persian مازندران). Among Indians it was called Kashyap Sagar. In Turkic speaking countries it is known as the Khazar Sea. Old Russian sources call it the Khvalyn (Khvalynian) Sea (Хвалынское море /Хвалисское море) after the Khvalis, inhabitants of Khwarezmia. Ancient Arabic sources refer to Baḥr Qazvīn - the Caspian/Qazvin Sea. The word Caspian is derived from the name of the Caspi (Persian کاسپی), an ancient people that lived to the west of the sea in Transcaucasia.[17] Strabo wrote that "to the country of the Albanians belongs also the territory called Caspiane, which was named after the Caspian tribe, as was also the sea; but the tribe has now disappeared".[18] Moreover, the Caspian Gate, which is the name of a region in Tehran province of Iran, is another possible piece of evidence that they migrated to the south of the sea. Also according to Greek historian Strabo, the name 'Caspian' is supposed to have been derived from the Sanskrit word 'Kashyapa' the name of an ancient Indian Sage, as is also believed by the Hindus from India.[19][20][21][22]

Historic cities by the sea include

Cities near the Caspian Sea

Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan is the largest city by the Caspian Sea.
Caspian Sea shore, Türkmenbaşy, Turkmenistan.

Major cities by the Caspian Sea:

Caspian Sea shore, near Bandar Anzali, Iran


Caspian Hyrcanian mixed forests, Northern Iran and Southern Azerbaijan

The Caspian Sea has numerous islands throughout. Ogurja Ada, is the largest island. It has a length of 47 km and there are gazelles roaming free in the interior of the island.

In the North Caspian the majority of the islands are small and uninhabited islands, like the Tyuleniy Archipelago, an Important Bird Area (IBA), though some of them do have human settlers.

Many of the islands near the Azerbaijan coast hold significant geopolitical and economic importance, due to their oil reserves. Bulla Island is off the coast of Azerbaijan, and holds tremendous oil reserves. Pirallahı Island, off the Azerbaijani coast as well, also possesses oil reserves; it was one of the first places in Azerbaijan that was found to have oil, and was the first place in the Caspian Sea to have sectional drilling done. Nargin was used as a former Soviet base and is the largest island in the Baku bay. Ashuradeh is situated on the easternmost end of Miankaleh peninsula to the north east of Gorgan Bay, near the Iranian coast. It was separated from the peninsula after islanders created a channel.

Various islands, particularly around Azerbaijan, have suffered extensive environmental damage due to oil production. Vulf, for example, has had its ecosystem severely damaged due to neighboring islands' oil production, although Caspian seals and various species of marine birds continue to inhabit it.

Hydrocarbon resources


Historical development

The Caspian area is rich in energy resources. Wells were being dug in the region as early as the 10th century.[23] By the 1500s Europeans were aware of the rich oil and gas deposits around the area. English traders Thomas Bannister and Jeffrey Duckett described the area around Baku as “a strange thing to behold, for there issueth out of the ground a marvelous quantity of oil, which serveth all the country to burn in their houses. This oil is black and is called nefte. There is also by the town of Baku, another kind of oil which is white and very precious (i.e., petroleum)."[24]

The world’s first offshore wells and machine-drilled wells were made in Bibi-Heybat Bay, near Baku, Azerbaijan. In 1873 exploration and development of oil began in some of the largest fields known to exist in the world at that time on the Absheron peninsula near the villages of Balakhanli, Sabunchi, Ramana and Bibi Heybat. Total recoverable reserves at that time number more than 500 million tons. By 1900 Baku had more than 3,000 oil wells, 2,000 of which were producing at industrial levels. By the end of the 19th Baku's fame as the "Black Gold Capital" was spreading throughout of the world, causing many skilled workers and specialists to flock to the city

By the turn of the 20th century, Baku was the global center for the international oil industry. In 1920, when the Bolsheviks captured Azerbaijan, all private property - including oil wells and factories - was confiscated. After that, the republic's entire oil industry was directed towards the purposes of the Soviet Union. By 1941 Azerbaijan was producing a record 23.5 million tons of oil, and the Baku region supplied nearly 72% of all oil extracted in the entire USSR.[23]

In 1994 the "Contract of the Century" was signed, signaling the start of major international development of the Baku oil fields. The Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline, a major pipeline allowing Azerbaijan oil to flow straight to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, opened in 2006.

Current issues

The oil in the Caspian basin is estimated to be worth over US $12 trillion. The sudden collapse of the USSR and subsequent opening of the region has led to an intense investment and development scramble by international oil companies. In 1998 Dick Cheney commented that "I can't think of a time when we've had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian."[25]

A key problem to further development in the region is the status of the Caspian Sea and the establishment of the water boundaries among the five littoral states (see below). The current disputes along Azerbaijan's maritime borders with Turkmenistan and Iran could potentially affect future development plans.

Much controversy currently exists over the proposed Trans-Caspian oil and gas pipelines. These projects would allow western markets easier access to Kazakh oil, and potentially Uzbek and Turkmen gas as well. The United States has given its support for the pipelines. Russia officially opposes the project on environmental grounds. Analysts note that the pipelines would bypass Russia completely, thereby denying the country valuable transit fees, as well as destroying its current monopoly on westward-bound hydrocarbon exports from the region.[26] Recently both Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have expressed their support for the Trans-Caspian Pipeline.[27]

Existing and proposed canals

Although the Caspian Sea is endorheic, its main tributary, Volga, is connected by important shipping canals with the Don River (and thus the Black Sea) and with the Baltic Sea, with branch canals to Northern Dvina and to the White Sea.

Another Caspian tributary, the Kuma River, is connected by an irrigation canal with the Don basin as well.

Canals proposed in the past

The Main Turkmen Canal, construction of which was started in 1950, would run from Nukus on the Amu-Darya to Krasnovodsk on the Caspian Sea. It would be used not only for irrigation, but also for shipping, connecting the Amu-Darya and the Aral Sea with the Caspian. The project was abandoned soon after the death of Joseph Stalin, in favor of the Qaraqum Canal, which runs on a more southerly route and does not reach the Caspian.[28]

Since the 1930s through the 1980s, the projects for a Pechora-Kama Canal were widely discussed, and some construction experiments using nuclear explosions were conducted in 1971. For this project, shipping was a secondary consideration; the main goal was to redirect some of the water of the Pechora River (which flows into the Arctic Ocean) via the Kama into the Volga. The goals were both irrigation and stabilizing the water level in the Caspian, which was thought to be falling dangerously fast at the time.

Eurasia Canal

In June 2007, in order to boost his oil-rich country's access to markets, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev proposed a 700 km link between the Caspian and Black seas. It is hoped that the "Eurasia Canal" (Manych Ship Canal) ) would transform the landlocked Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries into maritime states, enabling them to significantly increase trade volume. While the canal would traverse Russian territory, it would benefit Kazakhstan through its Caspian Sea ports. The most likely route for the canal, the officials at the Committee on Water Resources at Kazakhstan's Agriculture Ministry say, would follow the Kuma-Manych Depression, where currently a chain of rivers and lakes is already connected by an irrigation canal (Kuma-Manych Canal). Upgrading the Volga-Don Canal would be another option.[29]

International disputes

Southern Caspian Energy Prospects (portion of Iran). Country Profile 2004.

Negotiations related to the demarcation of the Caspian Sea have been going on for nearly a decade now among the littoral states bordering the Caspian - Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran.

The status of the Caspian Sea[30] is the key problem. There are three major issues regulated by the Caspian Sea status: access to mineral resources (oil and natural gas), access for fishing and access to international waters (through Russia's Volga river and the canals connecting it to the Black Sea and Baltic Sea). Access to the Volga River is particularly important for the landlocked states of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. This issue is of course sensitive to Russia, because this potential traffic will move through its territory (albeit onto the inland waterways). If a body of water is labeled as Sea then there would be some precedents and international treaties obliging the granting of access permits to foreign vessels. If a body of water is labeled merely as lake then there are no such obligations. Environmental issues are also somewhat connected to the status and borders issue.

It should be mentioned that Russia got the bulk of the former Soviet Caspian military fleet (and also currently has the most powerful military presence in the Caspian Sea). Some assets were assigned to Azerbaijan. Kazakhstan and especially Turkmenistan got a very small share because they lack major port cities.

According to a treaty signed between Iran (Persia) and the Soviet Union, the Caspian Sea is technically a lake and it is to be divided into two sectors (Persian and Russian), but the resources (then mainly fish) would be commonly shared. The line between the two sectors was to be seen as an international border in a common lake, like Lake Albert. Also the Russian sector was sub-divided into administrative sectors of the four littoral republics.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union not all of the newly independent states assumed continuation of the old treaty. At first Russia and Iran announced that they would continue to adhere to the old treaty (but they don't have a common border any more, so this is practically impossible).

After the old Soviet Union split into fifteen nations, including Caspian Sea neighbors Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, Iran has called for an equal division of the Caspian Sea among the five countries: Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia. If this division does not come to pass, then Iran intends to recognizes only its old treaty (between Iran and Russia) and will challenge Russia to divide its 50% share among the three littoral states - Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan - over a more friendly position toward the West and the U.S, such as opening of U.S interest section in Tehran.[citation needed]

Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan announced that they do not consider themselves parties to this treaty.

Later followed some proposals for common agreement between all littoral states about the status of the sea:

  • Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan insisted that the sectors should be based on the median line, thus giving each state a share proportional to its Caspian coastline length. Also the sectors would form part of the sovereign territory of the particular state (thus making them international borders and also allowing each state to deal with all resources within its sector as it wishes unilaterally).
  • Iran insisted that the sectors should be such that each state gets a 1/5th share of the whole Caspian Sea. This was advantageous to Iran, because it has a proportionally smaller coastline.
  • Russia proposed a somewhat compromising solution: the seabed (and thus mineral resources) to be divided along sectoral lines (along the two above-described variants), the surface (and thus fishing rights) to be shared between all states (with the following variations: the whole surface to be commonly shared; each state to receive an exclusive zone and one single common zone in the center to be shared. The second variant is deemed not practical, because of the small size of the whole sea).[citation needed]

Current situation

Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have agreed to a solution about their sectors. There are no problems between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, but the latter is not actively participating, so there is no agreement either. Azerbaijan is at odds with Iran over some oil fields that the both states claim. There have been occasions where Iranian patrol boats have opened fire at vessels sent by Azerbaijan for exploration into the disputed region. There are similar tensions between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan (the latter claims that the former has pumped more oil than agreed from a field, recognized by both parties as shared). Less acute are the issues between Turkmenistan and Iran. Regardless, the southern part of the sea remains disputed.

  • Russia and Kazakhstan signed a treaty, according to which, they divide the northern part of the Caspian Sea between them into two sectors along the median line. Each sector is an exclusive zone of its state. Thus all resources, seabed and surface are exclusive to the particular state.
  • Russia and Azerbaijan signed a similar treaty regarding their common border.
  • Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan signed a similar treaty regarding their common border.
  • Iran doesn't recognize the bilateral agreements between the other littoral states. Iran continues to insist on a single multilateral agreement between all five littoral states (as the only way to achieve 1/5-th share).
  • The position of Turkmenistan is unclear.

After Russia adopted the median line sectoral division and the three treaties already signed between some littoral states this is looking like the realistic method for regulating the Caspian borders. The Russian sector is fully defined. The Kazakhstan sector is not fully defined, but is not disputed either. Azerbaijan's, Turkmenistan's and Iran's sectors are not fully defined. It is not clear if the issue of Volga-access to vessels from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan is covered by their agreements with Russia and also what the conditions are for Volga-access for vessels from Turkmenistan and Iran.[citation needed]

The Caspian littoral States meeting in 2007 signed an agreement that bars any ship not flying the national flag of a littoral state from entering Caspian waters.[31]


Several scheduled ferry services (including train ferries) operate on the Caspian Sea, including:

See also


  1. ^ a b van der Leeden, Troise, and Todd, eds., The Water Encyclopedia. Second Edition. Chelsea, MI: Lewis Publishers, 1990, page 196.
  2. ^ "Caspian Sea » General background". Retrieved 2007-05-25. 
  3. ^ "ESA: Observing the Earth - Earth from Space: The southern Caspian Sea". Retrieved 2007-05-25. 
  4. ^ Lake Profile: Caspian Sea. LakeNet.
  5. ^ In system dynamics, a sink is a place where a flow of materials ends its journey, removed from the system.
  6. ^ Comparable evaporite beds underlie the Mediterranean.
  7. ^ a b "General background of the Caspian Sea". Caspian Environment Program. Accessed 29-01-2008.
  8. ^ a b Caspian Sea - Iran Gazette
  9. ^ a b Amirahmadi, Hooshang. The Caspian Region at a Crossroad: Challenges of a New Frontier of Energy and Development (Hardcover). Page 112. St. Martin's Press. Accessed 28-01-2008.
  10. ^ Khain V. E. Gadjiev A. N. Kengerli T. N, "Tectonic origin of the Apsheron Threshold in the Caspian Sea" Doklady Earth Sciences 414.4 (June 2007:552-556).
  11. ^ a b Dumont, Henri J. et al. Aquatic Invasions in the Black, Caspian, and Mediterranean Seas (Nato Science Series). Kluwer Academic Publishers. Accessed 28-01-2008.
  12. ^ Kostianoy, Andrey and Aleksey N. Kosarev. The Caspian Sea Environment (Hardcover). Springer. Accessed 28-01-2008.
  13. ^ a b
  14. ^ Caspian Environment Programme
  15. ^ Welcome to the Caspian Sea Level Project Site
  16. ^
  17. ^ Caspian Sea. (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved August 13, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service:
  18. ^ Strabo. Geography. 11.3.1
  19. ^ Caspian Sea-The largest lake in the world
  20. ^ Indian History
  21. ^ India-The mother of western civilisation
  22. ^ Article on Hinduism
  23. ^ a b The Development of the Oil and Gas Industry in Azerbaijan SOCAR
  24. ^ Back to the Future: Britain, Baku Oil and the Cycle of History SOCAR
  25. ^ The Great Gas Game Christian Science Monitor (October 25, 2001)
  26. ^ Russia Tries to Scuttle Proposed Trans-Caspian Pipeline Eurasianet
  27. ^ Russia Seeking To Keep Kazakhstan Happy Eurasianet
  28. ^ Nikolaĭ Gavrilovich Kharin, "Vegetation Degradation in Central Asia Under the Impact of Human Activities". Pp. 56-58. Springer, 2002. ISBN 1402003978. On Google Books
  29. ^ Caspian Canal Could Boost Kazakh Trade Business Week, July 9, 2007.
  30. ^ 8.3 The Status of the Caspian Sea - Dividing Natural Resources Between Five Countries - Khoshbakht B.Yusifzade
  31. ^ Russia Gets Way In Caspian Meet


  • Gurbanov, Turab. Le pétrole de la Caspienne et la politique extérieure de l'Azerbaïdjan: tome 1- Questions économiques et juridiques, l’Harmattan, 2007, 304 pages.
  • Gurbanov, Turab. Le pétrole de la Caspienne et la politique extérieure de l'Azerbaïdjan: tome 2- Questions géopolitiques, l’Harmattan, 2007, 297 pages.
  • Author=Shiryayev, Boris|Title=Großmaechte auf dem Weg zur neuen Konfrontation?. Das „Great Game“ am Kaspischen Meer: eine Untersuchung der neuen Konfliktlage am Beispiel Kasachstan|Publisher=Verlag Dr. Kovac|Place=Hamburg|Year=2008

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CASPIAN SEA (anc. Mare Caspium or Mare Hyrcanium; Russian, Kaspiyskoe More, formerly Hvalynskoe More; Persian, Darya-i-Khyzyr or Gurzem; Tatar, Ak-denghiz; the Sikirn and Jurjan of the ancient Eastern geographers), an inland sea between Europe and Asia, extending from 36° 4 o' to 47° 20' N. lat., and from 46° 50' to 55° 10' E. long. Its length is 760 m. from N. to S., and its breadth loo to 280 m., and its, area reaches 169,330 sq. m., of which 865 sq. m. belong to its islands. fills the deepest part of a vast depression, sometimes known as the Aralo-Caspian depression, once an inland sea, the Eurasian Mediterranean or Sarmatian Ocean. At the present time its surface lies 86 ft. below the level of the ocean, or 96.7 ft. according to the Aral-Caspian levelling 1 and 242.7 ft. below the level of the Aral.

Table of contents

Hydrography and Shores

The hydrography of the Caspian Sea has been studied by von Baer, by N. Ivashintsev (1819-1871) in 1862-1870, by O. Grimm, N. I. Andrusov (1895), and by J. B. Spindler (1897), N. von Seidlitz and N. Knipovich (1904) since the last quoted date. Its basin is divided naturally into three sections - (i) A northern, forming in the east the Gulf of Mortvyi Kultuk or Tsarevich Bay. This is the shallowest part, barely reaching a depth of 20 fathoms. It is being gradually 1 By the triangulation of 1840 its level was found to be 84 ft. below the level of the Black Sea. The Caucasus triangulation of 1860-1870 gave 89 ft.

silted up by the sedimentary deposits brought down by the rivers Volga, Ural and Terek. The western shore, from the delta of the Volga to the mouth of the Kuma, a distance of 170 m., is gashed by thousands of narrow channels or lagoons, termed limans, from 12 to 30 m. in length, and separated in some cases by chains of hillocks, called bugors, in others by sandbanks. These channels are filled, sometimes with sea-water, sometimes with overflow water from the Volga and the Kuma. The coastline of the Gulf of Mortvyi Kultuk on the north-east is, on the other hand, formed by a range of low calcareous hills, constituting the rampart of the Ust-Urt plateau, which intervenes between the Caspian and the Sea of Aral. On the south this gulf is backed by the conjoined peninsulas of Busachi and Manghishlak, into which penetrates the long, narrow, curving bay or fjord of Kaidak or Kara-su. (2) South of the line joining the Bay of Kuma with the Manghishlak peninsula, in 44° 10' N. lat., the western shore is higher and the water deepens considerably, being over one-half of the area 50 fathoms, while the maximum depth (between 41° and 42° N. lat.) reaches 437 fathoms. This, the middle section of the Caspian, which extends as far as the Apsheron peninsula, receives the Terek and several smaller streams (e.g. Sulak, Samur), that drain the northern slopes of the Caucasus. At Derbent, just north of 42° lat., a spur of the Caucasus approaches so close to the sea as to leave room for only a narrow passage, the Caspiae Pylae or Albanae Portae, which has been fortified for centuries. The eastern shore of this section of the sea is also formed by the Ust-Urt plateau, which rises 550 ft. to 750 ft. above the level of the Caspian; but in 42° N. lat. the Ust-Urt recedes from the Caspian and circles round the Gulf of Kara-boghaz or Kara-bugaz (also called Aji-darya and Kuli-darya). This subsidiary basin is separated from the Caspian by a narrow sandbar, pierced by a strait 14 m. long and only 115 to 170 yds. wide, through which a current flows continuously into the gulf at the rate of 12 to 5 m. an hour, the mean velocity at the surface being 3 m. an hour. To this there exists no compensating outflow current at a greater depth, as is usually the case in similar situations. The area of this lateral basin being about 7100 sq. m., and its depth but comparatively slight (31 to 36 ft.), the evaporation is very appreciable (amounting to 3.2 ft. per annum), and sufficient, according to von Baer, to account for the perpetual inflow from the Caspian. South of the Kara-Boghaz Bay the coast rises again in another peninsula, formed by an extension of the Balkhan Mountains. This marks (40° N. lat.) the southern boundary of the middle section of the Caspian. This basin may be, on the whole, considered as a continuation of the synclinal depression of the Manych, which stretches along the northern foot of the Caucasus from the Sea of Azov. It is separated from (3), the southern and deepest section of the Caspian, by a submarine ridge (30 to 150 fathoms of water), which links the main range of the Caucasus on the west with the Kopet-dagh in the Transcaspian region on the east. This section of the sea washes on the south the base of the Elburz range in Persia, sweeping round from the mouth of the Kura, a little north of the Bay of Kizil-agach, to Astarabad at an average distance of 40 m. from the foot of the mountains. A little east of the Gulf of Enzeli, which resembles the Kara-boghaz, though on a much smaller scale, the Sefid-rud pours into the Caspian the drainage of the western end of the Elburz range, and several smaller streams bring down the precipitation that falls on the northern face of the same range farther to the east. Near its south-east corner the Caspian is entered by the Atrek, which drains the mountain ranges of the Turkoman (N.E.) frontier of Persia. Farther north, on the east coast, opposite to the Bay of Kizil-agach, comes the Balkhan or Krasnovodsk Bay. In the summer of 1894 a subterranean volcano was observed in this basin of the Caspian, in 38° 10' N. lat. and 52° 37' E. long. The depth in this section ranges from 300 to 500 fathoms, with a maximum of 602 fathoms.

Drainage Area and Former Extent

The catchment area from which the Caspian is fed extends to a very much greater distance on the west and north than it does on the south and east. From the former it is entered by the Volga, which is estimated to drain an area of 560,000 sq. m., the Ural 96,000 sq. m., the Terek 59, 000 sq. m., the Sulak 7000 sq. m., the Samur 4250 sq. m.; as compared with these, there comes from the south and east the Kura and Aras, draining the south side of the Caucasus over 87,250 sq. m., and the Sefid-rud and the Atrek, both relatively short. Altogether it is estimated (by von Dingelstedt) that the total discharge of all the rivers emptying into the Caspian amounts annually to a volume equal to 174.5 cub. m. Were there no evaporation, this would raise the surface of the sea 51 ft. annually. In point of fact, however, the entire volume of fresh water poured into the Caspian is only just sufficient to compensate for the loss by evaporation. Indeed in recent times the level appears to have undergone several oscillations. From the researches of Philippov it appears that during the period 1851-1888 the level reached a maximum on three separate occasions, namely in 1868-186 9, 1882 and 1885, while in 1853 and 1873 it stood at a minimum; the range of these oscillations did not, however, exceed 3 ft. 62 in. The Russian expedition which investigated the Kara-boghaz in 1896 concluded that there is no permanent subsidence in the level of the sea. In addition to these periodical fluctuations, there are also seasonal oscillations, the level being lowest in January and highest in the summer.

The level of the Caspian, however, was formerly about the same as the existing level of the Black Sea, although now some 86 ft. below it. This is shown by the evidences of erosion on the face of the rocks which formed the original shore-line of its southern basin, those evidences existing at the height of 65 to 80 ft. above the present level. That a rapid subsidence did take place from the higher level is indicated by the fact that between it and the present level there is an absence of indications of erosive energy. There can be no real doubt that formerly the area of the Caspian was considerably greater than it is at the present time. Nearly one hundred and fifty years ago Pallas had his attention arrested by the existence of the salt lakes and dry saline deposits on the steppes to the east of the Caspian, and at great distances from its shores, and by the presence in the same localities of shells of the same marine fauna as that which now inhabits that sea, and he suggested the obvious explanation that those regions must formerly have been covered by the waters of the sea. And it is indeed the fact that large portions of the vast region comprised between the lower Volga, the AralIrtysh water-divide, the Dzungarian Ala-tau, and the outliers of the Tian-shan and Hindu-kush systems are actually covered with Aralo-Caspian deposits, nearly always a yellowish-grey clay, though occasionally they assume the character of a more or less compact sandstone of the same colour. These deposits attain their maximum thickness of 90 ft. east of the Caspian, and have in many parts been excavated and washed away by the rivers (which have frequently changed their beds) or been transported by the winds, which sweep with unmitigated violence across those wide unsheltered expanses. The typical fossils unearthed in these deposits are shells of species now living in both the Caspian and the Aral, though in the shallow parts of both seas only, namely (according to Ivan V. Mushketov [ 1850-1902 ]) Cardium edule, Dreissena polymorpha, Neritina liturata, Adacna vitrea, Hydrobia stagnalis, in the Kara-kum desert, and Lithoglyphus caspius, Hydrobia stagnalis, Anodonta ponderosa and the sponge Metchnikovia tuberculata, in the Kizilkum desert. The exact limits of the ancient Aralo-Caspian sea are not yet settled, except in the north-west, where the Ergeni Hills of Astrakhan constitute an unmistakable barrier. Northwards these marine deposits are known to exist 80 m. away from Lake Aral, though they do not cross the Aral-Irtysh waterdivide, so that this sea will not probably have been at that time connected with the Arctic, as some have supposed. The eastern limits of these deposits lie about loo m. from Lake Aral, though Severtsov maintained that they penetrate into the basin of Lake Balkash. Southwards they have been observed without a break for 160 m. from Lake Aral, namely in the Sary-kamysh depression (the surface of which lies below the level of the Caspian) and up the Uzboi trench for roo m. from the latter sea. How far they reach up the present courses of the Oxus (Amu-darya) and Jaxartes (Syr-darya) is not known. Hence, it is plain that in late Tertiary, and probably also in Post-Tertiary, times the AraloCaspian Sea covered a vast expanse of territory and embraced very large islands (e.g. Ust-Urt), which divided it into an eastern and a western portion, communicating by one or two narrow straits only, such as on the south the Sary-kamysh depression, and on the norththe line of the lakes of Chumyshty and Asmantai. More than this, the Caspian was also, it is pretty certain, at the same epoch, and later, in direct communication with the Sea of Azov, no doubt by way of the Manych depression; for in the limans or lagoons of the Black Sea many faunal species exist which are not only identical with species that are found in the Caspian, but also many which, though not exactly identical, are closely allied. As examples of the former may be named- Archaeobdella, Clessinia variabilis, Neritina liturata, Gmelina, Gammarus moeoticus, Pseudocuma pectinate, Paramysis Baeri, Mesomysis Kowalevskyi and M. inter media, Limnomysis Benedeni and L. Brandti, and species of the ichthyological fauna Gobius, Clupea and Acipenser; while as illustrating the latter class the Black Sea contains Dreissenia bugensis (allied to D. rostriformis and D. Grimmi), Cardium ponticum (to C. caspium), C. coloratum (to Monodacna edentula), Amphicteis antiqua (to A. Kowalevskyi) and Bythotrephes azovicus (to B. socialis). In the opinion of Russian geologists the separation of the Caspian from the great ocean must have taken place at a comparatively recent geological epoch. During the early Tertiary age it belonged to the Sarmatian Ocean, which reached from the middle Danube eastwards through Rumania, South Russia, and along both flanks of the Caucasus to the Aralo-Caspian region, and westwards had open communication with the great ocean, as indeed the ancient geographers Eratosthenes, Strabo and Pliny believed it still had in their day. This communication began to fail, or close up presumably in the Miocene period; and before the dawn of Pliocene times the Sarmatian Ocean was broken up or divided into sections, one of which was the Aralo-Caspian sea already discussed. During the subsequent Ice Age the Caspian flowed over the steppes that stretch away to the north, and was probably still connected with the Black Sea (itself as yet unconnected with the Mediterranean), while northwards it sent a narrow gulf or inlet far up the Volga valley, for Aralo-Caspian deposits have been observed along the lower Kama in 56° N. lat. Eastwards it penetrated up the Uzboi depression between the Great and Little Balkhan ranges, so that that depression, which is strewn (as mentioned above) with Post-Tertiary marine deposits, was not (as is sometimes supposed) an old bed of the Oxus, but a gulf of the Caspian. After the great ice cap had thawed and a period of general desiccation set in, the Caspian began to shrink in area, and simultaneously its connexions with the Black Sea and the Sea of Aral were severed.


The fauna of this sea has been studied by Eichwald, Kowalevsky, Grimm, Dybowski, Kessler and Sars. At the present time it represents an intermingling of marine and freshwater forms. To the former belongs the herring (Clupea), and to the latter, species of Cyprinus, Perca and Silurus, also a lobster. Other marine forms are Rhizopoda (Rotalia and Textillaria), the sponge Amorphina, the Amphicteis worm, the molluscs Cardium edule and other Cardidae, and some Amphipods (Cumacea and Mysidae,), but they are forms which either tolerate variations in salinity or are especially characteristic of brackish waters. But there are many species inhabiting the waters of the Caspianwhichare not foundelsewhere. These include Protozoa, three sponges, Vermes, twenty-five Molluscs, numerous Amphipods, fishes of the genera Gobius, Benthophilus and Cobitis, and one mammal (Phoca caspia). This last, together with some of the Mysidae and the species Glyptonotus entomon, exhibits Arctic characteristics, which has suggested the idea of a geologically recent connexion between the Caspian and the Arctic, an idea of which no real proofs have been as yet discovered. The Knipovich expedition in 1004 found no traces of organic life below the depth of 220 fathoms except micro-organisms and a single Oligochaete; but above that level there exist abundant evidences of rich pelagic life, more particularly from the surface down to a depth of 80 fathoms.


No other inland sea is so richly stocked with fish as the Caspian, especially off the mouths of the large rivers, the Volga, Ural, Terek and Kura. The fish of greatest economic value are sturgeon (four species), which yield great quantities of caviare and isinglass, the herring, the salmon and the lobster. The annual catch of the entire sea is valued at an average of one million sterling. Some 50,000 persons are engaged in this industry off the mouth of the Volga alone. Seals are hunted in Krasnovodsk Bay.


The proportion of salt in the water of the Caspian, though varying in different parts and at different seasons, is generally much less than the proportion in oceanic water, and even less than the proportion in the water of the Black Sea. In fact the salinity of the Caspian is only three-eights of that of the ocean. In the northern section, which receives the copious volumes brought down by the Volga, Ural and Terek, the salinity is so slight (only 0.0075% in the surface layers) that the water is quite drinkable, its specific gravity being not higher than 1.0016. In the middle section the salinity of the surface layers increases to o or 5%, though it is of course greater along the shores. The concentration of the saline ingredients proceeds with the greatest degree of intensity in the large bays on the east side of the sea, and more especially in that of Kara-boghaz, where it reaches 16.3% (Spindler expedition). The bottom of this almost isolated basin is covered for an area of 1300 sq. m. with a deposit of Epsom salts (sulphate of magnesia), 7 ft. thick, amounting to an estimated total of 1,000,000,000 tons. While the proportion of common salt to sulphate of magnesia is as r r to r in the water of the Black Sea and as 2 to 1 in the Caspian water generally, it is as 12.8 to 5.03 in the Kara-boghaz. The salinity of the surface water of the southern section of the Caspian averages 1.5%.


The temperature of the air over the Caspian basin is remarkable for its wide range both geographically and seasonally. The January isotherm of 15° F. skirts its northern shore; that of 40° crosses its southern border. But the winter extremes go far below this range: during the prevalence of north-east winds the thermometer drops to -20°, or even lower, on the surrounding steppes, while on the Ust-Urt plateau a temperature of -30 is not uncommon. Again, the July isotherm of 75° crosses the middle section of the Caspian, nearly coinciding with the January isotherm of 25°, while that of 80° skirts the southern shore of the sea, nearly coinciding with the January curve of 40°, so that the mean annual range over the northern section of the sea is 60° and over the southern section 40°. The former section, which is too shallow to store up any large amount of heat during the summer, freezes for three or four months along the shores, effectually stopping navigation on the lower Volga, but out in the middle ice appears only when driven there by northerly winds.

The prevalent winds of the Caspian blow from the south-east, usually between October and March, and from the north and north-west, commonly between July and September. They sometimes continue for days together with great violence, rendering navigation dangerous and driving the sea-water up over the shores. They also, by heaping up the water at the one end of the sea or the other, raise the level temporarily and locally to the extent of 4 to 8 ft. The currents of the Caspian were investigated by the Knipovich expedition; it detected two of special prominence, a south-going current along the west shore and a north-going current along the east shore. As a consequence of this the temperature of the water is higher on the Asiatic than on the European side. The lowest temperature obtained was 35° -24 on the bottom in shallow water, the highest 70° . 7 on the surface. But in March the temperature, as also the salinity, was tolerably uniform throughout all the layers of water. Another interesting fact ascertained by the same expedition is that the amount of oxygen contained in the water decreases rapidly with the depth: off Derbent in the middle section of the sea the amount diminished from 5.6 cc. per litre at a depth of 100 metres (33 o ft.) to 0.3 2 cc. per litre at a depth of 700 metres (say 2300 ft.). At the same spot samples of water drawn from the bottom were found to contain o 3 cc. of sulphuretted hydrogen per litre. In the southern section of the sea the decrease is not so rapid. In this latter section Spindler ascertained in July 1897 that the temperature of the surface water 60 m. from Baku was 72.9°, but that below io fathoms it sank rapidly, and at 200 fathoms and below it was constant at 21.2°.


The development of the petroleum industry in the Apeshron peninsula (Baku) and the opening (1886) of the Transcaspian railway have greatly increased the traffic across the Caspian Sea. A considerable quantity of raw cotton is brought from Ferghana by the latter route and shipped at Krasnovodsk for the mills in the south and centre of Russia, as well as for countries farther west. And Russia draws her own supplies of petroleum, both for lighting and for use as liquid fuel, by the sea route from Baku. Other ports in addition to those just mentioned are Astrakhan, on the Volga; Petrovsk, Derbent and Lenkoran, on the west shore; Enzeli or Resht, and Astarabad, on the Persian coast; and Mikhailovsk, on the east coast. The Russians keep a small naval flotilla on the Caspian, all other nations being debarred from doing so by the treaty of Turkmanchai (1828).

At various times and by various persons, but more particularly by Peter the Great, the project has been mooted of cutting a canal between the Volga and the Don, and so establishing unrestricted water communication between the Caspian and the Black Sea; but so far none of these schemes has taken practical shape. In 1900 the Hydrotechnical Congress of Russia discussed the plan of constructing a canal to connect the Caspian more directly with the Black Sea by cutting an artificial waterway about 22 ft. deep and 180 ft. wide from Astrakhan to Taganrog on the Sea of Azov.

See works quoted under ARAL; also von Baer, "Kaspische Studien," in Bull. Sci. St-Petersbourg (1855-1859), and in Erman's Archiv russ. (1855-1856); Radde, Fauna and Flora des siidwestlichen Kaspigebietes (1886); J. V. Mushketov, Turkestan (St Petersburg, 1886), with bibliographical references; Ivashintsev, Hydrographic Exploration of the Caspian Sea (in Russian), with atlas (2 vols., 1866); Philippov, Marine Geography of the Caspian Basin (in Russian, 1877); Memoirs of the Aral-Caspian Expedition of 1876-1877 (2 vols., in Russian), edited by the St Petersburg Society of Naturalists; Andrusov, "A Sketch of the Development of the Caspian Sea and its Inhabitants," in Zapiski of Russ. Geog. Soc.: General Geog. vol. xxiv.; Eichwa.ld, Fauna Caspio-Caucasica (1841); Seidlitz, "Das Karabugas Meerbusen," in Globus, with map, vol. lxxvi. (1899); Knipovich, "Hydrobiologische Untersuchungen des Kaspischen Meeres," in Petermanns Mitteilungen, vol. 1. (1904); and Spindler, in Izvestia of Russ. Geog. Soc. vol. xxxiv. (P. A. K.; J. T. BE.)

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Proper noun

Caspian Sea


Caspian Sea

  1. A landlocked sea between Asia and European Russia, and the world’s largest inland body of water.



Simple English

The Caspian Sea is the largest lake on Earth by both area and volume, with a surface area of 371,000 square kilometres (143,244 mi²) and a volume of 78,200 cubic kilometres (18,761 mi³). It is a landlocked (endorheic) body of water and lies between Russia and Iran. It has a maximum depth of about 1025 meters (3,363 ft). It is called a sea because when the Romans first arrived there, they tasted the water and found it to be salty. It has a salinity of approximately 1.2%, about a third the salinity of sea water.

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