Caspian Sea

About Caspian Sea

The Caspian Sea (also known as Mazandaran SeaHyrcanian Ocean, or Khazar Sea) is the world’s largest inland body of water, variously classed as the world’s largest lake or a full-fledged sea. An endorheic basin, it lies between Europe and Asia; east of the Caucasus, west of the broad steppe of Central Asia, south of the fertile plains of Southern Russia in Eastern Europe, and north of the mountainous Iranian Plateau of Western Asia. It covers 371,000 km2 (143,000 sq mi) (excluding the highly saline lagoon of Garabogazköl to its east) and a volume of 78,200 km3 (19,000 cu mi). It has a salinity of approximately 1.2% (12 g/l), about a third that of average seawater. It is bounded by Kazakhstan from mid-north to mid-east, Russia from mid-north to mid-west, Azerbaijan to the southwest, Iran to the south and adjacent corners, and Turkmenistan along southern parts of its eastern coast.

The sea stretches nearly 1,200 kilometres (750 mi) from north to south, with an average width of 320 km (200 mi). Its gross coverage is 386,400 km2 (149,200 sq mi) and the surface is about 27 m (89 ft) below sea level. Its main freshwater inflow, Europe’s longest river, the Volga, enters at the shallow north end. Two deep basins form its central and southern zones. These lead to horizontal differences in temperature, salinity, and ecology. The seabed in the south reaches 1,023 m (3,356 ft) below sea level, which is the second lowest natural non-oceanic depression on Earth after Lake Baikal (−1,180 m or −3,870 ft). Written accounts from the ancient inhabitants of its coast perceived the Caspian Sea as an ocean, probably because of its salinity and large size.

The Caspian Sea is home to a wide range of species and may be best known for its caviar and oil industries. Pollution from the oil industry and, to a lesser extent, dams on rivers draining into it have harmed its ecology.

Formation

The Caspian Sea, like the Black Sea, is a remnant of the ancient Paratethys Sea. Its seafloor is, therefore, a standard oceanic basalt and not a continental granite body. It 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 almost dried up, depositing evaporitic sediments like halite that were covered by wind-blown deposits and were sealed off as an evaporite sink when cool, wet climates refilled the basin. (Comparable evaporite beds underlie the Mediterranean.) Due to the current inflow of fresh water in the north, the Caspian Sea water is almost fresh in its northern portions, getting more brackish toward the south. It is most saline on the Iranian shore, where the catchment basin contributes little flow. Currently, the mean salinity of the Caspian is one third that of 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.

Formation

The Caspian Sea, like the Black Sea, is a remnant of the ancient Paratethys Sea. Its seafloor is, therefore, a standard oceanic basalt and not a continental granite body. It 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 almost dried up, depositing evaporitic sediments like halite that were covered by wind-blown deposits and were sealed off as an evaporite sink when cool, wet climates refilled the basin. (Comparable evaporite beds underlie the Mediterranean.) Due to the current inflow of fresh water in the north, the Caspian Sea water is almost fresh in its northern portions, getting more brackish toward the south. It is most saline on the Iranian shore, where the catchment basin contributes little flow. Currently, the mean salinity of the Caspian is one third that of 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.

Geography

The Caspian Sea is the largest inland body of water in the world and accounts for 40 to 44% of the total lacustrine waters of the world. 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. The Northern–Middle boundary is the Mangyshlak Threshold, which runs through Chechen Island and Cape Tiub-Karagan. The Middle–Southern boundary is the Apsheron Threshold, a sill of tectonic origin between the Eurasian continent and an oceanic remnant, that runs through Zhiloi Island and Cape Kuuli. 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 that cuts it off from the Caspian.

Differences between the three regions are dramatic. The Northern Caspian only includes the Caspian shelf, and is very shallow; it accounts for less than 1% 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 (620 ft). The Southern Caspian is the deepest, with oceanic depths of over 1,000 metres (3,300 ft), greatly exceeding the depth of other regional seas, such as the Persian Gulf. The Middle and Southern Caspian account for 33% and 66% of the total water volume, respectively. The northern portion of the Caspian Sea typically freezes in the winter, and in the coldest winters ice forms in the south as well.

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 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.

The Caspian Sea has numerous islands throughout, all of them near the coasts; none in the deeper parts of the sea. Ogurja Ada is the largest island. The island is 37 km (23 mi) long, with gazelles roaming freely on it. In the North Caspian, the majority of the islands are small and uninhabited, like the Tyuleniy Archipelago, an Important Bird Area (IBA), although some of them have human settlements.

Nature

Flora

The rising level of the Caspian Sea between 1994 and 1996 reduced the number of habitats for rare species of aquatic vegetation. This has been attributed to a general lack of seeding material in newly formed coastal lagoons and water bodies.

Fauna

The Caspian turtle (Mauremys caspica), although found in neighboring areas, is a wholly freshwater species. The zebra mussel is native to the Caspian and Black Sea basins, but has become an invasive species elsewhere, when introduced. The area has given its name to several species, including the Caspian gull and the Caspian tern. The Caspian seal (Pusa caspica) is the only aquatic mammal and is endemic to the Caspian Sea, being one of very few seal species that live in inland waters, but it is different from the those inhabiting freshwaters due to the hydrological environment of the sea. A century ago the Caspian was home to more than one million seals. Today, fewer than 10% remain.

Archeological studies of Gobustan Rock Art have identified what may be dolphins and porpoises, or a certain species of beaked whales and what may be a whaling scene indicates large baleen whales likely being present in Caspian Sea at least until when the Caspian Sea ceased being a part of the ocean system or until the Quaternary or much more recent periods such as until the last glacial period or antiquity. Although the rock art on Kichikdash Mountain is assumed to be of a dolphin or of a beaked whale, it might instead represent the famous beluga sturgeon due to its size (430 cm in length), but fossil records suggest certain ancestors of modern dolphins and whales, such as Macrokentriodon morani (bottlenose dolphins) and Balaenoptera sibbaldina (blue whales) were presumably larger than their present descendants. From the same artworks, auks, like Brunnich’s Guillemot could also have been in the sea as well, and these petroglyphs suggest marine inflow between the current Caspian Sea and the Arctic Ocean or North Sea, or the Black Sea. This is supported by the existences of current endemic, oceanic species such as lagoon cockles which was genetically identified to originate in Caspian/Black Seas regions.

The sea’s basin (including associated waters such as rivers) has 160 native species and subspecies of fish in more than 60 genera. About 62% of the species and subspecies are endemic, as are 4–6 genera (depending on taxonomic treatment). The lake proper has 115 natives, including 73 endemics (63.5%). Among the more than 50 genera in the lake proper, 3–4 are endemic: Anatirostrum, Caspiomyzon, Chasar (often included in Ponticola) and Hyrcanogobius. By far the most numerous families in the lake proper are gobies (35 species and subspecies), cyprinids (32) and clupeids (22). Two particularly rich genera are Alosa with 18 endemic species/subspecies and Benthophilus with 16 endemic species. Other examples of endemics are four species of Clupeonella, Gobio volgensis, two Rutilus, three Sabanejewia, Stenodus leucichthys, two Salmo, two Mesogobius and three Neogobius. Most non-endemic natives are either shared with the Black Sea basin or widespread Palearctic species such as crucian carp, Prussian carp, common carp, common bream, common bleak, asp, white bream, sunbleak, common dace, common roach, common rudd, European chub, sichel, tench, European weatherfish, wels catfish, northern pike, burbot, European perch and zander. Almost 30 non-indigenous, introduced fish species have been reported from the Caspian Sea, but only a few have become established.

Six sturgeon species, the Russian, bastard, Persian, sterlet, starry and beluga, are native to the Caspian Sea. The last of these is arguably the largest freshwater fish in the world. The sturgeon yield roe (eggs) that are processed into caviar. Overfishing has depleted a number of the historic fisheries. In recent years, overfishing has threatened the sturgeon population to the point that environmentalists advocate banning sturgeon fishing completely until the population recovers. The high price of sturgeon caviar—more than 1,500 Azerbaijani manats (US$880 as of April 2019) per kilo—allows fishermen to afford bribes to ensure the authorities look the other way, making regulations in many locations ineffective. Caviar harvesting further endangers the fish stocks, since it targets reproductive females.

Terrestrial

Flora

Many rare and endemic plant species of Russia are associated with the tidal areas of the Volga delta and riparian forests of the Samur River delta. The shoreline is also a unique refuge for plants adapted to the loose sands of the Central Asian Deserts. The principal limiting factors to successful establishment of plant species are hydrological imbalances within the surrounding deltas, water pollution, and various land reclamation activities. The water level change within the Caspian Sea is an indirect reason for which plants may not get established.

These affect aquatic plants of the Volga Delta, such as Aldrovanda vesiculosa and the native Nelumbo caspica. About 11 plant species are found in the Samur River Delta, including the unique liana forests that date back to the Tertiary period.

Fauna

Reptiles native to the region include spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca buxtoni) and Horsfield’s tortoise.

  • The Asiatic cheetah used to occur in the Trans-Caucasus and Central Asia, but is today restricted to Iran.
  • The Asiatic lion used to occur in the Trans-Caucasus, Iran, and possibly the southern part of Turkestan.
  • The Caspian tiger used to occur in northern Iran, the Caucasus and Central Asia.
  • The Persian leopard is found in Iran, the Caucasus and Central Asia.
History

Geology

The main geologic history locally had two stages. The first is the Miocene, determined by tectonic events that correlate with the closing of the Tethys Sea. The second is the Pleistocene noted for its glaciation cycles and the full run of the present Volga. During the first stage, the Tethys Sea had evolved into the Sarmatian Lake, that was created from the modern Black Sea and south Caspian, when the collision of the Arabian peninsula with Western Asia pushed up the Kopet Dag and Caucasus Mountains, lasting south and west limits to the basin. This orogeneic movement was continuous, while the Caspian was regularly disconnected from the Black Sea. In the late Pontian, a mountain arch rose across the south basin and divided it into the Khachmaz and Lankaran Lakes (or early Balaxani). The period of restriction to the south basin was reversed during the Akchagylian – the lake became more than three times its size today and took again the first of a series of contacts with the Black Sea and with Lake Aral. A recession of the Lake Akchagyl completed stage one.

Early settlement nearby

The earliest hominid remains found around the Caspian Sea are from Dmanisi dating back to around 1.8 Ma and yielded a number of skeletal remains of Homo erectus or Homo ergaster. More later evidence for human occupation of the region came from a number of caves in Georgia and Azerbaijan such as Kudaro and Azykh Caves. There is evidence for Lower Palaeolithic human occupation south of the Caspian from western Alburz. These are Ganj Par and Darband Cave sites.

Neanderthal remains also have been discovered at a cave in Georgia. Discoveries in the Hotu cave and the adjacent Kamarband cave, near the town of Behshahr, Mazandaran south of the Caspian in Iran, suggest human habitation of the area as early as 11,000 years ago. Ancient Greeks focused on the civilization on the south shore – they call it the (H)yr(c/k)anian Sea (Ancient Greek: Υρκανία θάλαττα, with sources noting the latter word was evolving then to today’s Thelessa: late Ancient Greek: θάλασσα).

Chinese maximal limit

Later, in the Tang dynasty (618-907), the sea was the western limit of the Chinese Empire.

Fossil fuel

The area is rich in fossil fuels. Oil wells were being dug in the region as early as the 10th century to reach oil “for use in everyday life, both for medicinal purposes and for heating and lighting in homes”. By the 16th century, Europeans were aware of the rich oil and gas deposits locally. 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].”

Today, oil and gas platforms abound along the edges of the sea.

Geography, geology and navigation studies

During the rule of Peter I the Great, Fedor I. Soimonov was a pioneering explorer of the sea. He was a hydrographer who charted and greatly expanded knowledge of the sea. He drew a set of four maps and wrote Pilot of the Caspian Sea, the first lengthy report and modern maps. These were published in 1720 by the Russian Academy of Sciences.

location on map

GET IN TOUCH WITH KEREGE TRAVEL

Our friendly and experienced staffs are always ready to answer any questions that you may have about our travel products and services. Please fill out the form below and we will be in touch with lightening speed.

Follow us