The Caspian Sea

The Caspian Sea, the largest lake in the world, is about 144,000 square
miles (375,000 km2) in extent, more than half the size of Texas. North
to south, it stretches about 745 miles (1,199 km). The Caspian is also the
most saline (the saltiest) lake on the planet. Ranging from 3 percent to 8
percent saline, it is almost half as salty as the ocean.
While the Caspian is called a “sea” because of its size, it is actually a
lake, surrounded on all sides by these Middle Eastern countries: Kazakhstan,
Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkmenistan, and Iran. Once controlled by the Soviet
Union, before that country broke up into republics in 1991, the Caspian lies
east of the Black Sea and even farther east of the Mediterranean. The Black
Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, unlike the Caspian, are both connected to
the ocean.
At shore level in most places, this is an immense, hot, dry, salty place. It
is ringed by low desert to the north, a higher desert plateau (called a grassy
“steppe”) to the east, the Caucasus Mountains not far to the west, and an
area of cropland to the south where sugarcane, fruit, and other foods are
grown. A huge desert lies just south of that zone. Desert is encroaching
every year on the Caspian’s southwest and south sides, a process called desertification.
This land change generally results not only from poor rainfall
but also from human practices that increase soil erosion or worsen soil quality,
damaging the conditions plants need to grow (the unanchored topsoil
then blows away). Sand dunes lie on parts of the Caspian’s east and south
shores. Shaped and changed by wave action and wind action, the southern
dunes rise as high as 50 feet (15.24 m) above the Caspian.