Lakes of the World the Caspian Sea

About the Caspian Sea the largest salt lake in the world, history, size, and more about the Russian lake.

LAKES

CASPIAN SEA

The Caspian is the largest inland sea, or salt lake, in the world.

It is located in the Soviet Union and Iran; its southern shore is the northern fringe of the Middle East. The Caspian is 750 mi. long and 130-300 mi. wide (163,800 sq. mi.). Though very shallow in the north, it is as deep as 3,190 ft. in the central and southern sections. The depths contain hydrogen sulfide, which prevents any life below 1,500 ft.

The giant Volga River empties into the Caspian and controls its various levels during the year. The sea has no outlet, and therefore accumulates dissolved salts. Yet its salinity is low, except for the water in its land-locked gulf, Kara-Bogaz-Gol, where salt deposits build up through evaporation and create mirabilite, or Glauber's salt.

Because of seepage and evaporation, the Caspian shrinks a few inches every year. Since 1930 its level has dropped more than 8 ft., leaving fishing villages and port facilities high and dry and cutting fish catches in half. Soviet scientists, alarmed over the loss, have begun plans to connect the north-flowing Pechora River to the south-flowing Kama River, a tributary of the Volga, in hopes of getting more water into the sea. They conducted a test in 1971 in which they detonated three 15-kiloton nuclear charges to determine how effectively they could blast a 70-mi. canal. The explosions produced very little radiation. The proposed ditch between the Pechora and Kama rivers calls for about 250 devices in the range of 100-200 kilotons. American scientists have warned the Soviets that diverting the Pechora's warm water would reduce the Arctic Ocean's temperature and cause major climatological repercussions.

The North Caspian and South Caspian are very different. The North freezes from December to March. Vegetation is sparse, and marshlands preclude any serious agriculture. The South, on the other hand, has luxuriant, almost tropical vegetation and a bustling sugarcane industry.

Alexander the Great found the sea's southern extremity in 330 B.C. Cartographers thought the Caspian was part of the northern oceans till the 2nd century A.D. Czarist expansion into Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries secured Russian control of the Caspian, but only in the past 100 years has the sea been developed. Now huge oil tankers ply their trade from the massive Baku oil complex on the Caucasus shore to the cities of western Russia up the Volga River. The sea provides Russia with a first-rate fishing industry. Most sturgeon, from which caviar is obtained, comes from the Caspian Sea.

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