The CASPIAN SEA is the largest enclosed inland body of water on Earth
by area, variously classed as the world\'s largest lake or a
full-fledged sea . It is in an endorheic basin (a basin without
outflows) located between
Asia . It is bounded by
Kazakhstan to the northeast,
Russia to the northwest,
Iran to the south, and
Turkmenistan to the southeast.
Sea presently lies about 28 m (92 ft) below sea level in
Caspian Depression , to the east of the
Caucasus Mountains and to
the west of the vast steppe of Central
Asia . The sea bed in the
southern part reaches as low as 1023 m below sea level, which is the
second lowest natural depression on earth after
Baikal (-1180 m).
The ancient inhabitants of its coast perceived the Caspian
Sea as an
ocean, probably because of its saltiness and large size.
The sea has a surface area of 371,000 km2 (143,200 sq mi) (not
including the detached lagoon of
Garabogazköl ) and a volume of
78,200 km3 (18,800 cu mi). It has a salinity of approximately 1.2%
(12 g/l), about a third of the salinity of most seawater .
* 1 Etymology
* 2 Physical characteristics
* 2.1 Formation
* 2.2 Geography
* 2.3 Hydrology
* 2.4 Environmental degradation
* 3 Nature
* 3.1 Aquatic
* 3.1.1 Flora
* 3.1.2 Fauna
* 3.2 Terrestrial
* 3.2.1 Flora
* 3.2.2 Fauna
* 4 History
* 4.1 Cities
* 4.1.1 Ancient
* 4.1.2 Modern
* 5 Oil extraction
* 5.1 Political issues
* 6 Territorial status
* 6.1 Cross-border inflow
* 7 Transport
* 7.1 Canals
* 8 See also
* 9 References
* 10 External links
The word Caspian is derived from the name of the Caspi , an ancient
people who lived to the southwest of the sea in
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". Moreover, the
Caspian Gates , which is the name of a region in
Iran 's Tehran
province , possibly indicates that they migrated to the south of the
sea. The Iranian city of
Qazvin shares the root of its name with that
of the sea. In fact, the traditional Arabic name for the sea itself is
Bahr al-Qazwin (
Sea of Qazvin).
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 درياى خزر, Daryā-e Khazar; it is also sometimes
referred to as
Sea (Persian : دریای
مازندران) in Iran. Ancient Arabic sources refer to it
as Baḥr Gīlān (بحر گیلان) meaning "the
Turkic languages refer to the lake as
Khazar Sea. In Turkmen , the
name is Hazar deňizi, in Azeri , it is Xəzər dənizi, and in modern
Turkish , it is Hazar denizi. In all these cases, the second word
simply means "sea", and the first word refers to the historical
Khazars who had a large empire based to the north of the Caspian Sea
between the 7th and 10th centuries. An exception is Kazakh , where it
is called Каспий теңізі, Kaspiy teñizi (Caspian Sea).
Old Russian sources call it the Khvalyn or Khvalis Sea
(Хвалынское море / Хвалисское море) after
the name of
Khwarezmia . In modern Russian, it is called
Каспи́йское мо́ре, Kaspiyskoye more.
The Caspian Sea, like the Black
Namak Lake , and
Lake Urmia ,
is a remnant of the ancient
Sea . 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, the Caspian
Sea is a freshwater lake in its northern portions,
and 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.
Map of the Caspian Sea, yellow shading indicates Caspian
drainage basin. (Since this map was drawn, the nearby Aral
greatly decreased in size.)
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
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
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
Amu Darya (Oxus) of Central
Asia in the east often changed
course to empty into the Caspian through a now-desiccated riverbed
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.
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.
Mangystau Region ,
The Caspian has characteristics common to both seas and lakes . It is
often listed as the world's largest lake, although it is not a
freshwater lake. It contains about 3.5 times more water, by volume,
than all five of North America's
Great Lakes combined. The Caspian was
once part of the
Tethys Ocean , but became landlocked about 5.5
million years ago due to plate tectonics . 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 13th century to the 16th
century, caused the coastal towns of Khazaria , such as Atil , to
flood. In 2004, the water level was 28 metres (92 feet) below sea
Over the centuries, Caspian
Sea levels have changed in synchrony 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
The last short-term sea-level cycle started with a sea-level fall of
3 m (10 ft) from 1929 to 1977, followed by a rise of 3 m (10 ft) from
1977 until 1995. Since then smaller oscillations have taken place.
Volga River , the largest in Europe, drains 20% of the European
land area and is the source of 80% of the Caspian's inflow. Its lower
reaches are heavily developed with numerous unregulated releases of
chemical and biological pollutants. Although existing data are sparse
and of questionable quality, there is ample evidence to suggest that
Volga is one of the principal sources of transboundary
contaminants into the Caspian.
The magnitude of fossil fuel extraction and transport activity in the
Caspian also poses a risk to the environment. The island of
Baku , for example, has suffered ecological damage as a result of the
petrochemical industry; this has significantly decreased the number of
species of marine birds in the area. Existing and planned oil and gas
pipelines under the sea further increase the potential threat to the
The Vladimir Filanovsky field in the Russian section of the body of
water was discovered for its wealth of oil in 2005. It is reportedly
the largest discovery of oil that they have had in 25 years. It was
announced in October 2016 that
Lukoil would start production in this
Caspian Hyrcanian mixed forests are maintained
by moisture captured from the Caspian
Sea by the
Alborz Mountain Range
The rising level of the Caspian
Sea between 1994–96 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.
Most tadpole gobies (Benthophilus) are only found in the Caspian
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 is different from those inhabiting freshwaters due to the
hydrological environment of the sea.
Archeological studies of Gobustan petroglyphs indicate that there
once had been dolphins and porpoises , or a certain species of
beaked whales and a whaling scene indicates of large baleen whales
likely being present in Caspian
Sea at least until when Caspian Sea
was a part of ocean system or until
Quaternary or much more recent
periods such as until the last glacial period or antiquity . Although
the rock art on Kichikdash Mountain assumed to be of a dolphin or of
a beaked whale, 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 the existences of current endemic, oceanic
species such as lagoon cockles which was genetically identified to
originate in Caspian/Black Seas regions , and these petroglyphs
suggest marine inflow between the current Caspian
Sea and the Arctic
Ocean or North
Sea , or the Black
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:
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
Alosa with 18 endemic species/subspecies and Benthophilus
with 16 endemic species. Other examples of endemics are four species
Clupeonella , Gobio volgensis , two
Rutilus , three
Stenodus leucichthys , two
Salmo , two
Mesogobius and three Neogobius
. Most non-endemic natives are either shared with the Black
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 ,
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, however,
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
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
Sea is an indirect reason for which plants may not get
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 .
Illustration of two Caspian tigers , extinct in the region since
Reptiles native to the region include spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo
graeca buxtoni) and Horsfield\'s tortoise .
Asiatic cheetah used to occur in the Trans-
Asia , but is today restricted to Iran.
Asiatic lion used to occur in the Trans-Caucasus, Iran, and
possibly the southern part of
Caspian tiger used to occur in northern Iran, the
Persian leopard is found in Iran, the
Caucasus and Central
Sea (Bahr ul-Khazar). 10th century map by Ibn Hawqal
Sea map from 1747 with the
Dead Kultuk as 'Blue Sea'
The 17th-century Cossack rebel and pirate
Stenka Razin , on a raid in
the Caspian (
Vasily Surikov , 1906)
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
Homo erectus or
Homo ergaster . More later evidence for
human occupation of the region come from a number of caves in Georgia
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 site in
Georgia. Discoveries in the Huto cave and the adjacent Kamarband cave,
near the town of
Mazandaran south of the Caspian in Iran,
suggest human habitation of the area as early as 11,000 years ago.
The Caspian area is rich in energy resources. 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 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 )."
In the 18th century, during the rule of
Peter I the Great , Fedor I.
Soimonov , hydrographer and pioneering explorer of the Caspian Sea
charted the until then little known body of water. Soimonov drew a set
of four maps and wrote the 'Pilot of the Caspian Sea', the first
report and modern maps of the Caspian, that were published in 1720 by
Russian Academy of Sciences .
Today, oil and gas platforms are abounding along the edges of the
Baku , the capital of
Azerbaijan is the largest city by the
Hyrcania , ancient state in the north of Iran
* Anzali ,
Gilan Province of Iran
* Astara ,
Gilan Province of Iran
Golestan Province of Iran
* Tamisheh ,
Golestan Province of Iran
Baku , Azerbaijan
Dagestan , Russia
Xacitarxan , modern-day
* Ali Abad
* Astaneh-ye Ashrafiyeh
* Gonbad-e Kavus
* Türkmenbaşy (formerly Krasnovodsk)
* Hazar (formerly Çeleken)
* Garabogaz (formerly Bekdaş)
Oil pipelines in the Caspian region. September 2002.
Caspian region oil and natural gas infrastructure. August 2013.
The world's first offshore wells and machine-drilled wells were made
in Bibi-Heybat Bay, near
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 were 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 century,
Baku became known as the "black gold
capital", and many skilled workers and specialists flocked to the
By the beginning of the 20th century,
Baku was the centre of
international oil industry. In 1920, when the
Azerbaijan , all private property – including oil wells and
factories – was confiscated. Afterwards, the republic's entire oil
industry came under the control 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
In 1994, the "Contract of the Century " was signed, signalling 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.
Many of the islands along the Azerbaijani coast continue to hold
significant geopolitical and economic importance because of the
potential oil reserves found nearby.
Bulla Island , Pirallahı Island
, and Nargin , which was used as a former Soviet base and is the
largest island in the
Baku bay, all hold oil reserves.
The 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."
A key problem to further development in the region is the status of
Sea and the establishment of the water boundaries among
the five littoral states. The current disputes along Azerbaijan's
maritime borders with
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.
Russia officially opposes the project on environmental grounds.
However, 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. Recently, both
Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan
have expressed their support for the Trans-Caspian Pipeline.
U.S. diplomatic cables disclosed by
WikiLeaks revealed that BP
covered up a gas leak and blowout incident in September 2008 at an
operating gas field in the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshi area of the Azerbaijan
Southern Caspian Energy Prospects (portion of Iran). Country
Profile 2004. Caspian Sea,
As of 2000 , negotiations related to the demarcation of the Caspian
Sea had been going on for nearly a decade among the states bordering
the Caspian – Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and
Iran. The status of the Caspian
Sea is the key problem. 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 ) all depend upon
the outcomes of negotiations. Access to the
Volga River is
particularly important for the landlocked states of Azerbaijan,
Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. This concerns Russia, because the
potential traffic would use its inland waterways . If a body of water
is labelled as a 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 labelled merely as a lake ,
then there are no such obligations. Environmental issues are also
somewhat connected to the status and borders issue.
All five Caspian littoral states maintain naval forces on the sea.
According to a treaty signed between
Iran and the Soviet Union, the
Sea is technically a lake and was divided into two sectors
(Iranian and Soviet), but the resources (then mainly fish ) were
commonly shared. The line between the two sectors was considered an
international border in a common lake, like
Lake Albert . The Soviet
sector was sub-divided into the four littoral republics'
Russia, Kazakhstan, and
Azerbaijan have bilateral agreements with
each other based on median lines. Because of their use by the three
nations, median lines seem to be the most likely method of delineating
territory in future agreements. However,
Iran insists on a single,
multilateral agreement between the five nations (as this is the only
way for it to achieve a one-fifth share of the sea).
Azerbaijan is at
Iran over some oil fields that both states claim.
Occasionally, Iranian patrol boats have fired at vessels sent by
Azerbaijan for exploration into the disputed region. There are similar
Turkmenistan (the latter claims that
the former has pumped more oil than agreed from a field, recognized by
both parties as shared).
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 the sea.
Negotiations among the five littoral states have been ongoing, amidst
ebbs and flows, for the past 20 years, with some degree of progress
being made at the fourth Caspian Summit held in
Astrakhan in 2014.
UNECE recognizes several rivers that cross international borders
which flow into the Caspian Sea. These are:
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Turkey
Although the Caspian
Sea is endorheic , its main tributary, the 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
Another Caspian tributary, the Kuma River , is connected by an
irrigation canal with the Don basin as well.
Several scheduled ferry services (including train ferries ) operate
on the Caspian Sea, including:
* a line between Türkmenbaşy ,
Turkmenistan (formerly Krasnovodsk)
* a line between
* several lines between cities in
The ferries are mostly used for cargo; only the
Baku – Türkmenbaşy routes accept passengers.
As an endorheic basin , the Caspian
Sea basin has no natural
connection with the ocean. Since the medieval period, traders reached
the Caspian via a number of portages that connected the
Volga and its
tributaries with the Don (which flows into the
Sea of Azov ) and
various rivers that flow into the Baltic . Primitive canals connecting
Volga Basin with the Baltic have been constructed as early as the
early 18th century; since then, a number of canal projects have been
completed. The two modern canal systems connecting the
with the ocean are the Volga–Baltic
Waterway and the Volga–Don
Pechora-Kama Canal was a project that was widely
discussed between the 1930s and 1980s. Shipping was a secondary
consideration; its 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. In 1971 some construction experiments were conducted
using nuclear explosions .
In June 2007, in order to boost his oil-rich country's access to
Kazakhstan 's President
Nursultan Nazarbaev proposed a
700-kilometre (435-mile) link between the Caspian and Black seas . It
is hoped that the "
Eurasia Canal " (
Manych Ship Canal ) would
Kazakhstan and other
Central Asian countries into
maritime states, enabling them to significantly increase trade volume.
Although 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.
Baku Oil Fields
Ekranoplan , a ground effect plane which was developed on the
Epoch of Extremal Inundations
* Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment
of the Caspian
Shah Deniz gas field
South Caucasus pipeline
South Caucasus pipeline
Southern Gas Corridor
Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline
Trans-Caspian Oil Pipeline
* Wildlife of
* Wildlife of
* Wildlife of
* Wildlife of
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* Names of the Caspian Sea