The Caspian Sea is located in the middle of the Eurasian supercontinent, between the Caucasus Mountains and the Central Asian Steppe region. The sea covers a surface area of 143,200 square miles, making it the largest inland body of water in the world. The Caspian seabed is located at 3,356 feet below sea level at its deepest point, making it the second lowest natural point in the world. The sea is completely surrounded by land and has no outlet to an open ocean. Five countries have coastlines along the Caspian Sea: Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Russia.
What Countries Border the Caspian Sea?
Iran is located south of the Caspian Sea, where it has a coastline that measures approximately 400 miles in length. The country has several cities located on the shores of the Caspian Sea, including Bandar-e Anzali, Sakht Sar, and Bandar-e Torkeman. The area closest to this shoreline is characterized by a large coastal plain, known as the Caspian Plain. The ecosystem follows the entire shoreline and extends approximately 31 miles inland at its widest point. In some areas, it is only 1.2 miles wide.
Mountainous terrain borders the Caspian Plain, which is dominated by the Alborz Mountain range. The mountain range is recognized as having the highest point in Iran, which stands at 18,406 feet above sea level, and is known as Mount Damavand. Several minor rivers originate in these mountains and drain into the Caspian Sea. The climate along the Caspian Sea is mild and wet, receiving between 19.7 to 39.5 inches of precipitation annually. This rainfall promotes significant plant growth in the region, which supports an ecosystem known as the Caspian forests.
Turkmenistan is located southeast of the Caspian Sea, where it has a coastline that measures 1,098.58 miles in length. Turkmenbasy (also known as Turkmenbashi) is the only major city in Turkmenistan that is located along the shores of the Caspian Sea. This city sits at an elevation of only 89 feet above sea level and is well-known as the starting point of the Trans-Caspian railroad.
The area of Turkmenistan that surrounds the Caspian coastal region has been affected by severe environmental degradation in the form of desertification, which means that previously fertile land has become sterile desert land. The primary cause of this issue is believed to be overgrazing by livestock, specifically cattle, which local farmers leave to roam throughout the region. This desertification, in turn, allows wind erosion to occur, which works to remove the topsoil. The climate in Turkmenistan around the Caspian Sea is categorized as a cold desert, which means the summers are hot and the winters are mild, and there is a lack of precipitation year-round. The region receives an annual rainfall of between 3.15 and 11.8 inches.
Kazakhstan is located northeast of the Caspian Sea, where it has a coastline that measures 1,176 miles in length. The country has a few cities located on or near the shores of the Caspian Sae, including Zhanbay, Atyrau, Fort Shevchenko, and Tcov. The land near the Caspian Sea coastline is known for having some of the lowest above-water elevations in the world. In fact, the lowest point in Kazakhstan is found in the Karagiye Mountain Trench, which is near the Caspian shore and sits at 433 feet below sea level.
The terrain surrounding the Caspian Sea is characterized by desert and semi-desert environments, with large sand dunes, lack of rainfall, and otherwise harsh conditions. Additionally, this area of Kazakhstan is threatened by a continual rise in the level of the Caspian Sea. The rising sea level seems to be concentrated in the northern end of the coastline, where 3,861 square miles of the Atyrau Province have been flooded since 1978. Researchers claim that if this sea level rise continues at its current rate, several cities will be submerged by water as early as the year 2020. Additionally, Kazakhstan risks losing a number of its Caspian oil fields to the rising sea level.
Azerbaijan is located west of the Caspian Sea, where it has a coastline that measures 443 miles in length. The country has several cities located near the Caspian shore, including Xacmaz, Gilezi, Siyezen, Sumqayit, and Baku (the national capital). Baku has the largest port on the Caspian Sea, which has helped develop the city's petroleum industry.
The area bordering the Caspian Sea is characterized by a humid and subtropical climate, although some areas are considered to have a cold and semi-arid climate. Several rivers begin in the Caucasus Mountains, which are located further inland, and drain into the Caspian Sea. The longest of these rivers is the Mtkvari, and the river delta it creates is an important ecosystem in Azerbaijan. This coastline is unique in that its peninsular formation, known as the Absheron Peninsula, juts out into the Caspian Sea for a length of 37 miles and measures 19 miles across at its widest point. The Absheron Peninsula has a hilly terrain and is covered by sand dunes at its tip.
Russia is located northwest of the Caspian Sea, where it has several cities situated along the coastline, including Makhachkala, Izberbash, and Derbent. The lowest point in Russia is located in the Caspian Sea and is reported to have an elevation of 92 feet below sea level. The Caspian Sea affects the environment in this region of Russia. The ecosystems located near the shores of the Caspian Sea are characterized by both semi-desert land (closer to the water) and steppe land (slightly inland). One of the largest steppes is the Pontic-Caspian Steppe, which stretches from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea. It is characterized by flat land filled with grasses and shrubs, and has no trees or forests. The Caucasus Mountains begin in this region, which are considered to form a geographic border between Asia and Europe.