BALTIC SEA (Scand. and Ger. Ostsee; Russ. Baltiyskoe More), a sea extending between 54° and 66° N. lat., and 9° and 30° E. long., surrounded by the territories of Sweden, Russia, Germany and Denmark. Its greatest length is about 960 m.; greatest breadth about 400 m.; and length of coast-line, 5000 m.; the central axis runs approximately from south-west to north-east. The Baltic is connected with North Sea by the winding channel between the south of Scandinavia and the Cimbrian peninsula. This channel is usually included in the Baltic. The part of it west of a line joining the Skaw with Christiania fjord receives the name of Skagerrak; the part east of this line is called the Kattegat. At its southern end the Kattegat is blocked by the Danish islands, and it communicates with the Baltic proper by narrow channels called the Sound, the Great Belt and the Little Belt. The real physical boundary between the North Sea and the Baltic is formed by the plateau on which the islands Zealand, Fünen and Laaland are situated, and its prolongation from the islands Falster and Möen to the coasts of Mecklenburg and Rügen.
East of this plateau the Baltic proper forms a series of hollows or troughs. The first, or Bornholm deep, lies east of the island of Bornholm, and is separated from the next, or Gotland deep, by the Middelbank. Beyond the Middelbank the Danziger Tiefe, an isolated depression, lies to the south-east, while to the northeast the Gotland basin, the largest and deepest of all, extends north-eastwards to the Gulf of Finland. Along the Swedish coast a deep channel runs northward from outside the island of Oland; this is entirely cut off to the south and east by a bank which sweeps eastward and northward from near Karlskrona, and on which the island of Gotland stands, but it communicates at its northern end with the Gotland deep, and near the junction opposite Landsort is the deepest hole in the Baltic (420 metres = 230 fathoms).
An unbroken ridge, extending from Stockholm to Hangö in Finland, separates the Baltic basin proper from the depression between Sweden and the Aland Isles, to which the name Aland Haf has been given. North of the Aland Haf a ridge defines the southern edge of another depression, the Bothnian Sea, which in turn is separated from the most northerly division, the Gulf of Bothnia, by a ridge across the narrow Quarken or Kvarken Strait. The Gotland deep may be said to extend directly into the Gulf of Finland, an arm of the Baltic, running eastwards for about 250 m., and separating Finland from Esthonia. Between Esthonia and Courland is the Gulf of Riga, a shallow inlet of roughly circular form, about 100 m. in diameter, and nowhere more than 27 fathoms deep.
According to recent computations the total area of the Baltic, including the Skagerrak and Kattegat, is 166,397 sq. m., and its volume 6907 cub. m., giving a mean depth of 36 fathoms, which is markedly less than that of any other arm of the sea of similar area.
In the deeper hollows in the south part of the Baltic the bottom consists almost invariably of either soft brown or grey mud or hard clay, while on the shallow banks and near the low coasts fine sand, of white, yellow or brown colour with small pebbles, is usually found.
At the time of the last great subsidence, in glacial times, an arm of the sea extended across Sweden, submerging a great part of the littoral up to the Gulf of Bothnia, and including the present lakes Vener, Hjelmar and Mälar. During this period the waters of the northern Baltic were sufficiently salt for oysters to flourish. The subsequent upheaval restricted direct communication with the open sea to the Danish channels, and the Baltic waters became fresher: the oyster disappeared, but a number of cold salt-water fishes and crustaceans, and even seals, became acclimatized. It has been suggested that the presence of the remains of these animals indicates a communication to the north with the Arctic Ocean; but in view of the severe climatic conditions still prevailing at the time, this seems an unnecessary assumption. In the next stage of its history the Baltic is transformed by further elevation into a vast freshwater lake, the Ancylus lake of G. de Geer (named from the remains of the mollusc Ancylus fluviatilis), which is supposed to have covered an area of about 220,000 sq. m., including the whole of the present Baltic area and a large part of Finland, with Lake Ladoga. Then followed a subsidence, which not only re-established communication through the Danish channels, but allowed the Baltic to become sufficiently salt for such forms as Cardium edule and Littorina littorea. At this time the Gulf of Bothnia must have suffered greater depression than the Baltic proper, for the deposits of that epoch show a thickness of 100 metres (328 ft.) near Hernösand, but of only 25 metres (82 ft.) in the neighbourhood of Gotland. After this period of subsidence the process of elevation set in which gave the Baltic its present form and physical condition, and appears to be still in progress. Dr R. Sieger has traced a series of isobasic lines, or lines of equal rate of elevation, for portions of Sweden and Finland; these indicate that the movement is now almost nil along the axial lines of the Baltic and the Gulf of Finland, but increases in amplitude northwards to the Gulf of Bothnia and in the direction of the main ridge of the massif of southern Sweden. At Stockholm the rate of elevation is approximately 0.47 metre (= 1.54 ft.) in a century.
The coast of the Baltic is rocky only in the island-studded region at the head of the Baltic basin proper - a submerged lake-district - and the littoral generally is a typical morainic land, the work of the last great Baltic glacier. The southern margin of the Baltic is of peculiar interest. From Schleswig eastwards to Lübeck Bay the coast is pierced by a number of narrow openings or Fohrden, the result of encroachment of the sea caused by subsidence. East of Lübeck, as far as the mouth of the Oder, these give place to Bodden, ramified openings studded with islands: the structure here resembles that of Scania in southern Sweden, a region once joined to both Denmark and Pomerania by an isthmus which was severed by tectonic movements. Beyond the Oder the coast-line is unbroken as far as the Gulf of Danzig. It is then cut into by the estuaries of the Vistula, the Pregel and the Memel. Here the westerly winds have full play, and the coast is rimmed by a continuous line of dunes, which cut off the two great lagoons of the Frisches Haff and Kurisches Haff by sandspits or Nehrungen.
The drainage area of the Baltic is relatively large. According to the measurements of Sir J. Murray it extends to 461,450 sq. sea m. ( = 611,700 sq. English m.) The largest river-basin included in it is that of the Neva in the east, and next in size come the Vistula and the Oder in the south. The narrow parallel troughs, at right angles to the coast, which form the drainage-system of Sweden and western Finland, are a remarkable feature.
Levellings from Swinemünde show that the mean level of the surface of the Baltic at that point is 0.093 metres (= .305 ft.) below the surface of the North Sea at Amsterdam, and 0.066 metres ( = .216 ft.) below its level at Ostend. A line of levels from Swinemünde through Eger to the Adriatic showed the mean level of the surface of the Baltic to be 0.499 metres (1.6 ft.) above that of the Adriatic Sea. The mean level of the surface of the Baltic rises about 0.5 metres (1.6 ft.) from the coast of Holstein to Memel, probably as a result of the prevailing westerly winds; this mean difference is exceeded with strong westerly winds, and disappears or is reversed with easterly winds. The waves of the Baltic are usually short and irregular, often dangerous to navigation. Destructive waves, probably caused by distant earthquakes, called Seebaren (cf. English "bores") have been recorded.
The range of the tides is about one foot at Copenhagen; within the Baltic proper ordinary tides are scarcely perceptible. There is, however, a distinctly marked annual rise and fall due to meteorological influences having a mean range of about 11.4 cm. (0.37 ft.), at Travemünde, and 13.9 cm. (0.46 ft.) at Swinemünde, the maximum occurring at the end of the summer rainy period in August.
The circulation of water in the Baltic proper must be considered apart from the circulation in the channels connecting it with the North Sea; and in this relation the plateau connecting the islands Falster and Möen with the coast of Mecklenburg and Rügen must be taken as the dividing line. In the great basins and hollows from Rügen to the Gulfs of Bothnia and Finland the upper layers of water, from 30 to 70 metres (16 to 38 fathoms) in thickness, have almost the same salinity throughout. In these waters a vertical circulation is kept up by convection currents. Beneath these layers are masses of salter water, through which a thermal wave of small amplitude is slowly propagated to the bottom by conduction. These strata are practically stagnant, deficient in oxygen and surcharged with carbonic acid. Their salter waters must have been originally derived from outside, and must therefore have passed over the plateau between Falster and Mecklenburg, but their horizontal extension is checked by the ridges separating the deep hollows in the Baltic from each other. The inflow to the deep basins is intermittent, probably with a long period of flux and reflux.
The circulation in the channels connecting the Baltic proper with the North Sea is of a complex character. It is necessary in the first place to distinguish clearly between outflowing and inflowing waters; in practice this is easily done, as the outflowing water always contains less than 30 parts pro mille of salt, and the inflowing water more than 32 pro mille. The Baltic receives much more water by rainfall, discharge of rivers, etc., than it loses by evaporation; hence a surplus must be got rid of by an outflowing current which may be named the "Baltic Stream." The following general laws may be laid down with regard to this: -
1. That the Baltic Stream must be a surface current, because it originates from a redundancy of fresh water.
2. That, on account of the earth's rotation, the main part of the Baltic Stream must keep close to the coast of the Scandinavian peninsula.
3. That it must be a periodic stream, because the discharge of the rivers into the Baltic varies with the season of the year. In spring and summer the water from the Baltic is sufficiently abundant to inundate the whole surface of the Kattegat and Skagerrak, but in winter the sources of the Baltic current are for the most part dried up by the freezing of the land water.
All the waters which enter the Skagerrak or Kattegat as undercurrents can be found at the surface of the North Sea (q.v.). They may be divided according to their origin and salinity as follows: -
(a) Ocean water of 35 pro mille salinity or more.
(b) North Sea water, the predominant water in the North Sea area, of 34 to 35 pro mille salinity.
The deepest water stratum in the Skagerrak is certainly of oceanic origin; it has been found to suffer changes of long period, and it is probably not always composed of water derived from the same part or the same depth of the North Atlantic; this water is, as a rule, deficient in oxygen. The "North Sea" water, of 34 to 35 pro mille salinity, does not appear at the surface in the Skagerrak, except as a strip along part of the coast of Jutland, but it is always found as an undercurrent overlying the oceanic water. It enters into all the deep coast channels, and into the Christiania fjord, but it is not always found in the deep channels of the Kattegat. The principal time of inflow of North Sea water is during spring and summer. The bank-water of 32 to 34 pro mille salinity is found all along the continental coast of the North Sea and North Atlantic, and it may therefore enter the Skagerrak either from the North Sea or from the north along the coast of Norway. It is probable indeed that an influx of this water occurs from both directions - in August and September from the south, and in the late winter and early spring from the north. The seasonal changes in the distribution of the bank-waters in different parts of the coast are too complex to be briefly explained; their relations to the times of occurrence of various fisheries of the region present many remarkable features, which have been investigated in recent years by the Swedish Commission.
On the west and south coasts of Sweden, and in the Skagerrak south-east of Norway, navigation is interfered with by ice only in severe winters, and then the ice is usually drifting, compact sea-ice being very rare. Between Stockholm and Visby navigation usually ceases at the end of December and begins again about the 10th of April. During very severe winters the Aland Sea is covered with thick ice available for traffic. The south part of the Gulf of Bothnia is covered with ice every winter along the coasts, but rarely, if ever, in its central part. Navigation is interrupted by drifting ice from about the middle of November to the beginning of May, though the port of Hernösand has been known to remain open during a whole winter. The northern Quarken is covered with traversable ice every third or fourth year. The northern part of the Gulf of Bothnia is frozen every winter. In the Gulf of Finland the sea is closed to navigation by ice for about 150 days in the year; but navigation is rendered possible throughout the winter by the use of ice-breakers.
See references to different parts of the subject in the standard books of A. Penck, A. de Lapparent, E. Suess and others. Also Credner, Die Entstehung der Ostsee (Leipzig, 1895); G. de Geer, Om Skandinaviens nivåforändringar under quartärperioden (Stockholm, 1888); R. Sieger, Seeenschwankungen und Strandverschiebungen in Skandinavien (Berlin, 1893); O. Pettersson, "Review of Swedish Hydrographic Research," Scottish Geographical Magazine (1894); N. Ekholm, Om klimatets ändringar i geologisk och historisk tid. Ymer (Stockholm, 1899); Publications of the International Council for the Study of the Sea (Copenhagen, since 1902).
(H. N. D.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)