Caspian Sea

Lake Locations:

Azerbaijan - Iran - Kazakhstan - Russia - Northern Caucases - Povolzhsky - Turkmenistan -

Also known as:  Mazandaran Sea, Khazar Sea, Khvalyn Sea

With the largest volume of any saltwater “lake” on earth, the Caspian Sea holds well over 62 billion acre-feet of saltwater. Many classify the Caspian Sea not as a lake, but as an inland sea. (There is no widely accepted definition of “lake,” but most exclude bodies of saltwater.)

Considered by many to be one of the world’s few ancient lakes, the Caspian Sea sits atop some of the world’s largest oil and natural gas reserves and holds approximately 90 percent of world’s prized sturgeon reserves. Surrounded by ancient cultures, beautiful water and rugged coastline, the Caspian Sea offers unforgettable adventures and travel opportunities.

The history of the Caspian Sea begins 50-60 million years ago, when it was the Parathetis/Paratethys Gulf and part of the ancient Thetis Ocean. Through many geological epochs, the earth’s plates moved and the gulf became surrounded by land. Many lakes preceded the Caspian Sea as glacial periods came and went, with today’s Caspian Sea forming five-to-seven thousand years ago. Archeological findings in Iran, along the Caspian Sea’s southern coast, have provided evidence of human habitation as early as 75,000 years ago.

Over the past centuries, the rich resources surrounding the Caspian Sea have been the source of competition and tension among nations worldwide. Today the 3,467-mile shoreline is shared by five bordering countries: Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to the east, Azerbaijan to the west, Iran to the south and Russia to the northwest within its Northern Caucases and Povolzhsky Regions.

Mainly for political reasons, and interpretation of laws of the seas, a debate continues as to whether the Caspian Sea is a lake or a sea. It is correct to identify the Caspian Sea as a lake, although its size and salinity are also characteristics of seas. The Caspian Sea is a terminal lake, an enclosed body of water with no outlet. Water levels are determined by inflow from more than 130 rivers, with 80 percent of the water coming from Russia’s Volga River.

With a surface area covering well over 107 million acres, the Caspian Sea is divided into three regions of similar size. The Northern Caspian holds just under one-third of the lake’s area and has an average depth of 20 feet. It is the shallowest region, making up less than one percent of the water volume. The Middle Caspian holds approximately 35 percent of the lake’s volume and maintains an average depth of 574 feet. The Southern Caspian holds 64 percent of the lake’s volume and the deepest part of the lake at 3,363 feet. A fourth distinguishing feature plays a vital part in balancing the salinity and water level of the Caspian Sea: Kara-Bogaz-Gol, a gulf separated from the Middle Caspian by a strait of land, lies twelve feet lower than the Caspian Sea. Evaporation rates in this very arid climate make it a “natural desalter” for the Caspian Sea.

In general, ocean salinity is three times that of the Caspian Sea; salinity also varies substantially within the Caspian Sea. Inflow from the Volga River lowers salinity to freshwater levels along North Caspian deltas. Lower salinity can also be found in the South Caspian near the Kura, Sefidrud and Atrek Rivers, with highest concentrations of salinity appearing in Kara-Bogaz-Gol.

Environmental and pollution problems have plagued the Caspian Sea for decades and continue to be a challenge today. The loss of fish species, pollution from industry, and consequences of damming rivers that feed the Caspian Sea are apparent throughout the lake. While individual nations increase their preservation efforts, competing interests between the region’s geopolitical partners make regional agreements an ongoing challenge. In an effort to restore sturgeon populations, fishing for the prized species has been banned or greatly restricted on the Caspian Sea. Herring, Kutum (Caspian white fish), mullets, carp, bream, zander, roach and salmon are among the species that can be fished in the Caspian Sea today.

Travel warnings and restrictions exist through much of this region, yet the beauty of the Caspian Sea continues to attract visitors. Areas of concern lie in Iran and Russia, where border patrols monitor the coastline of the Mazandaran Sea. For those intrepid travelers who seek adventure, a number of nations are creating vacation retreats.

Avaza, Turkmenistan’s tourist area, lies along the eastern coast of the Khvalyn Sea. Plans for resorts and vacation properties are being developed along with needed improvements in transportation and services. South of the bustling city of Aktau, in western Kazakhstan, visitors and local citizens enjoy summer retreats along the Khazar Sea’s sandy beaches. Vacation rentals, real estate properties and resorts can be found along the coast. Within the city of Aktau, you can hike water-front trails, tour museums, enjoy theatre productions, stroll through local parks and browse city shops. Nabran, Azerbaijan has also become a popular vacation destination. The resort community lies along the western coast of the Caspian Sea, where beaches meet forested hills. Western amenities may be limited but hotels, restaurants and entertainment are available for guests seeking international adventures.

The Caspian Sea is a land of many contrasts. As you move nation-to-nation and mile-by-mile, you see the hills of the north turn into rugged southern mountains, scenery changes from deserts to forests, below freezing winter temperatures cause the Northern Caspian to freeze while the southern border remains temperate, and cultures clash and nations rival for resources. It is not a land easily traveled, but locating vacation rentals or real estate properties offer residents a lakeside retreat and foreign travelers a unique opportunity to see and explore interesting cultures, scenic lands and ancient waterways.

Things to do at Caspian Sea

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Hiking
  • Museum

Fish species found at Caspian Sea

  • Carp
  • Roach
  • Salmon
  • Sturgeon
  • Zander

Caspian Sea Photo Gallery

Caspian Sea Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Saltwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 107,737,946 acres

Shoreline Length: 3,467 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): -89 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): -95 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): -82 feet

Average Depth: 604 feet

Maximum Depth: 3,363 feet

Water Volume: 62,424,915,900 acre-feet

Water Residence Time: 250

Drainage Area: 1,351,358 sq. miles

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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