The Caspian is a large, shallow, salty inland sea, located between southern Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, iran, and Azerbaijan. it is 144,444 square miles (373,000 km2), and its surface rests 92 feet (28 m) below sea level. it has a maximum depth of only 3,280 feet (1,000 m) in the south and is very shallow in the north, with an average depth of only 16.5 feet (5 m). Thus changes in the sea level bring large changes in the position of the shoreline. These historical changes in shoreline position are evident in the lowland continuation of the Caspian depression in the Kalymykiya region to the northwest of the sea. More than 75 percent of the water flowing into the Caspian is from the Volga River in the north, draining the western side of the urals and the European plains. other rivers that flow into the Caspian include the ural, Emba, Kura, and Temek, but there is no outlet. The Caucasus Mountains strike into the sea on the west, and the Elbruz Mountains line its southern border.
The Caspian is mineral-rich and blessed with large oil and gas deposits in several regions, and it is one of the most active exploration areas in the world. The Caspian holds an estimated 200 billion barrels of oil, as much as iraq and iran combined. Rich petroleum deposits off the Apseran Peninsula on the west led to the development of Baku, Azerbaijan, where the Nobels (including Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite and originator of the Nobel prizes) made their fortune at the end of the 19 th century. unfortunately, decades of careless environmental practices associated with soviet state-run oil extraction has
Simplified geological map of Europe showing the location of the Alps, Caledonides, East European (Russian) craton, Urals, Svalbard, and Caspian Sea
led to widespread pollution and contamination, only recently being cleaned up.
The origin of the Caspian depression is somewhat controversial, but many geologists believe that much of the basin is ocean crust trapped during closure of the Tethys ocean, then deeply buried by sedimentary sequences that host the many petroleum deposits in the area. The sea is also rich in salt deposits and is extensively fished for sturgeon, although the catches have declined dramatically since the early
1990s. The reasons for the fish decline include loss of spawning grounds, extensive poaching, overfishing, and pollution. A single large (typically up to 15 feet) female beluga sturgeon can weigh 1,300 pounds and carry 200 pounds of roe, which retailers can sell as caviar for $250,000 in the united states.
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