Occupying the westernmost part of the Eurasian landmass, Europe is the world’s 2nd smallest continent that covers an area of about 10,180,000 sq. km. It is bordered by the continent of Asia in the east; the Mediterranean Sea in the south; the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the Arctic Ocean in the north. The European continent hosts several geographical features including significant mountain ranges, islands, peninsulas, and water bodies. Notable mountain ranges like the Alps, Apennines, Carpathians, Caucasus, Balkan, Pyrenees, Ural, etc are found in Europe. Numerous rivers originate from these mountain ranges and flow through the countries of the European Continent. In addition to the rivers, several other major water bodies are also found in the continent. This article highlights some of the major European water bodies.
The Adriatic Sea – The Adriatic Sea is a semi-enclosed body of water and the northernmost extension of the Mediterranean Sea that separates the eastern part of the Italian Peninsula from the countries of the Balkan Peninsula. The Adriatic Sea is surrounded by the Apennine Mountains, Dinaric Alps, and other adjacent mountain ranges. Some of the major countries that are located along the Adriatic Sea are Italy, Croatia, Albania, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Sea’s eastern Croatian coastline is highly indented and contains approximately 1,300 islands.
The Aegean Sea – With an area of 214,000 sq. km, the Aegean Sea is the Mediterranean’s 4th largest marginal sea, which is located between Anatolia and the Balkan peninsulas. The Aegean Sea is dotted with numerous islands and islets, which are organized into seven major groups such as the Cyclades, Crete, Dodecanese, North Aegean Islands, Saronic, Sporades, and the West Aegean Islands.
The Alboran Sea - The Alboran Sea is the westernmost portion of the Mediterranean Sea that is situated between the Iberian Peninsula and the northern part of Africa. The sea is bordered by the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar in the west; by Spain in the north and by Algeria and Morocco in the south. The Strait of Gibraltar, which lies at the extreme western end of the Alboran Sea, connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean. The Alboran Sea also hosts the largest population of bottlenose dolphins and serves as a critical feeding ground for the loggerhead turtles.
Balearic Sea – Often referred to as the Iberian Sea, the Balearic Sea is a portion of the Mediterranean Sea that is situated between the eastern part of Spain, the southern part of France, and the western part of the Sardinia and the Corsica Islands. The Balearic shearwater is an endemic avian species that is found in the Balearic Sea.
Baltic Sea - With an area of 377,000 sq. km, the Baltic Sea is one of the marginal seas of the Atlantic Ocean. The 8,000km long coastline of the Baltic Sea is shared by the countries of Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Denmark, and Russia’s Kaliningrad region. It is estimated that over 250 rivers and small streams drain into the Baltic Sea. Some significant islands like Gotland, Saaremaa, Oland, Lolland, etc are located in the Baltic Sea.
The Barents Sea – With an area of 1,400,000 sq. km, the Barents Sea is one of the marginal seas of the Arctic Ocean, which is situated along the northern coasts of Russia and Norway. It is bounded by the Svalbard archipelago, Novaya Zemlya archipelago, Kola Peninsula, Franz Josef Land islands, and the Norwegian and the Greenland Seas. The Barents Sea also serves as an important site for the exploration of hydrocarbons like petroleum and natural gas.
Bay of Biscay – Located to the south of the Celtic Sea, on the western coast of Europe is the Bay of Biscay, which is considered as a wide extension of the North Atlantic Ocean. The Bay is bordered by France in the east and by Spain in the south. Several rivers such as Bidasoa, Dordogne, Loire, Garonne, Adour, etc, drain into the Bay of Biscay. The southern part of the Bay is often known as Mar Cantábrico (or, the Cantabrian Sea).
The Black Sea – With an area of 436,402 sq. km, the Black Sea is one of the marginal seas of the Atlantic Ocean, which is situated between the continents of Europe and Asia. The Sea is bordered by the countries of Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Georgia, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Several rivers including Danube, Dniester, Don, Dnieper, Rioni, Southern Bug, etc drain into the Black Sea. The sea hosts numerous islands of varying sizes like the Dzharylhach Island, Nova Zemlia, St. Ivan, St Cyricus, Bird Island, etc.
Bosphorus or Bosporus Strait – Also referred to as the Istanbul Strait, the Bosporus Strait is a body of water that forms a part of the boundary between the continents of Asia and Europe. Located in northwestern Turkey, Bosporus Strait is one of the world’s narrowest straits that connect the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. The Dardanelles Strait (or, the Strait of Gallipoli) in turn links the Sea of Marmara with the Aegean Sea.
Bristol Channel – Bristol Channel is a major inlet of the Atlantic Ocean on the island of Great Britain. It separates the southern part of Wales from the Somerset and Devon counties in the southwestern part of England. Several rivers including Avon, Taff, Severn, Usk, and Wye flow into the Bristol Channel. Lundy, Steep Holm, Flat Holm, Caldey are some large uninhabited islands that are situated in the Bristol Channel.
The Celtic Sea – The Celtic Sea is a part of the Atlantic Ocean and covers an area of approximately 300,000 sq. km. The sea is located to the south of the Republic of Ireland and is bordered by the St. George’s, English, and Bristol Channels. Several rivers from the countries of France, Wales, Ireland, and England drain into the Celtic Sea. The Isles of Scilly archipelago is also located in the Celtic Sea.
English Channel – English Channel is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that is situated between the southern coast of the Island of Great Britain and the northern coast of France. In the north, the Strait of Dover links the English Channel with the North Sea. Several islands such as the Channel Islands, Isle of Wight, Chausey, and Mont Saint-Michel are situated in the Channel. The English Channel is also one the busiest shipping routes in the world.
Gulf of Bothnia - The Gulf of Bothnia is the northernmost part of the Baltic Sea that is bordered by the countries of Sweden and Finland. Several rivers from both countries drain into the Gulf of Bothnia. Comprising more than 6,000 islands, the Åland archipelago of Finland is located in the southern part of the Gulf of Bothnia. Kokkola, Pori, Tornio, Gävle, Sundsvall are some of the principal ports that are situated along the Gulf of Bothnia.
Gulf of Finland – The Gulf of Finland is the easternmost extension of the Baltic Sea that is bordered by the countries of Finland, Russia, and Estonia. Numerous rivers including the Jägala, Keila, Kovashi, Kunda, Narva, Sista drain into the Gulf of Finland. Several islands such as the Beryozovye, Kotlin, Kimitoön, Lisiy, Pakri islands are located in the Gulf of Finland. In addition to these, about 19 artificial islands containing fortifications have been constructed by the Russians in the Gulf of Finland.
Gulf of Riga – The Gulf of Riga is a large gulf of the Baltic Sea, that is located between the countries of Latvia and Estonia. Some of the major islands in the Gulf of Riga include Ruhnu, Saaremaa, and Kihnu. The Saaremaa Island partially separates the Gulf of Riga from the Baltic Sea.
Gulf of Venice – The Gulf of Venice is a small gulf, that is located in the northern part of the Adriatic Sea, between the Po River delta in northern Italy and Croatia’s Istria Peninsula. The gulf is bordered by the countries of Italy, Croatia, and Slovenia.
The Ionian Sea - The Ionian Sea is an elongated embayment of the Mediterranean Sea that is situated to the south of the Adriatic Sea. The Strait of Otranto links the Adriatic Sea with the Ionian Sea while the Strait of Messina links it with the Tyrrhenian Sea. The Calypso Deep is the Mediterranean Sea’s deepest point, which is located in the Ionian Sea at a depth of 5,267m. Corfu, Ithaca, Leucas, Kefalonia, etc are some of the major islands that are located in the eastern portion of the Ionian Sea.
Irish Sea – Also referred to as the Manx Sea, the Irish Sea separates the island of Great Britain from the island of Ireland. The sea is connected to the North Atlantic Ocean via the North Channel in the north and by the St. George’s Channel and the Celtic Sea in the south. Some of the major islands of the Irish Sea include Anglesey, Isle of Man, Walney Island, Ramsey Island, Calf of Man, Bardsey Island, etc.
Kattegat Bay – The Kattegat Bay is a 30,000 sq. km, sea area that is bounded by the Baltic Sea, the Danish Straits Islands, the Jutlandic Peninsula, and some Swedish provinces.
The Mediterranean Sea - With an area of 2.5 million sq. km, the Mediterranean Sea is one of the largest seas in the world that is bordered by the continents of Europe in the north, Africa in the south, and Asia in the east. In the west, the sea is connected with the Atlantic Ocean via the narrow Strait of Gibraltar. Greece, Spain, Italy, France, Croatia, Algeria, etc are some of the major countries that are located along the Mediterranean Sea. In oceanography, it is sometimes referred to as the ‘Eurafrican Mediterranean Sea’ or the European Mediterranean Sea to distinguish it from the Mediterranean seas elsewhere.
The North Sea – With an area of 570,000 sq. km, the North Sea is the 13th largest sea of the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Great Britain (England and Scotland), Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Norway, and The Netherlands. The North Sea is connected with the Atlantic Ocean via the English Channel and with the Baltic Sea via the Kattegat and Skagerrak Straits.
The Norwegian Sea – The Norwegian Sea is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean that is situated in the northwestern part of Norway between the North Sea and the Greenland Sea. In the north, the Jan Mayen Ridge separates the Norwegian Sea from the Greenland Sea. The seafloor of the Norwegian Sea is rich in petroleum and natural gas deposits and has been commercially explored since 1993.
Sea of Azov – With a maximum depth of only 14m, the Sea of Azov is regarded as one of the shallowest seas in the world. The Sea is bounded by Ukraine in the north, Russia in the east, and the Crimean Peninsula in the west. In the south, it is connected to the Black Sea via the Strait of Kerch. Mariupol, Yeysk, Taganrog, etc are some of the major ports that are located along the Sea of Azov.
Sea of Crete – The Sea of Crete is situated in the southern part of the Aegean Sea. It is bordered by the Kythera and Antikythera islands in the west; the Island of Crete in the south; the Cyclades Islands in the north and the Karpathos, Kassos, and Rhodes islands in the east. It is also surrounded by the Ionian, Myrtoan, and Mediterranean Seas.
Sea of Marmara – The Sea of Marmara is a small inland sea that is completely bordered by Turkey. The sea separates the Asian and European parts of Turkey and is linked with the Black Sea via the Bosphorus Strait and with the Aegean Sea via the Dardanelles Strait.
The Sea of the Hebrides – The Sea of the Hebrides is a small portion of the North Atlantic Ocean, that is located off the coast of western Scotland. The Sea was designated as a Marine Protected Area by the Scottish Government, to protect the population of minke whales and basking sharks in the Sea of the Hebrides.
Skagerrak Strait -The Skagerrak Strait is situated between Sweden, Norway, and Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula. It connects the North Sea and the Baltic Sea via the Kattegat sea area and the Danish Straits. The Strait is one of the busiest shipping routes in the world.
St. George’s Channel - St. George’s Channel is a wide water passage that is located between the southeastern part of Ireland and the British territory of Wales. The channel links the Irish Sea with the Celtic Sea.
Strait of Dover - The Strait of Dover forms the narrowest part of the English Channel. It forms a boundary between the North Sea and the English Channel and separates the United Kingdom from continental Europe. The Strait is also one of the busiest straits in the world.
Strait of Gibraltar - The Strait of Gibraltar is a narrow strait that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea. It is situated between the southern part of Europe and the northwestern part of Africa. It is also one of the busiest waterways in the world.
The Tyrrhenian Sea - The Tyrrhenian Sea is a part of the Mediterranean Sea that is located off the western coast of Italy, between the Italian Peninsula, the Sardinia Islands, and the Corsica Islands. Several large islands including Sicily, Sardinia, Capri, Elba, Corsica are located in the Tyrrhenian Sea.
White Sea - The White Sea is a southern arm of the Barents Sea that is situated on the northwestern coast of Russia. The White Sea is surrounded by the Kola, Kanin, and the Karelia Peninsulas. Northern Dvina, Onega, Niva, Ponoy, Umba, etc are some significant rivers that drain into the White Sea. The Gorlo Strait links it with the Barents Sea, while the White Sea Canal connects it with the Baltic Sea.