Black Sea, mystifying as it may sound, is not really black nor with any sense of it. Spoiler alert: its waters are actually the same colors with any other seas or oceans.
The word black may spell evil, disaster or something supernatural. Black Magic, Black Death or Black Friday- you name it, right? However, none of these has nothing to do with it.
I’ve sailed into this body of water many years ago. As a matter of experience, its one of the calmest seas I’ve been. I even remember our ship making water ballast exchange before approaching Novorossiysk, Russia.
So what made it earn the name “Black Sea”?
Dolphins swimming in the calm and turquoise waters of the “Sea in the North”.
The Myth: Why Do We Call it “Black Sea”?
Let us explore the many stories surrounding this body of water.
During the height of the Greek empire, they initially called this region Pontos Axeinos. They adopted the name from an ancient Iranian word axšaina- or axšaēna- meaning “dark colored”.
But it doesn’t end there. Numerous myths encompasses its name that we will explore below.
From Inhospitable to Hospitable
Due to the presence of very hostile tribes living along its coasts, ancient sailors named it “Inhospitable Sea”. Additionally, the waters were also extremely difficult to navigate using their ships. Few islands and varying weather conditions added to their struggle.
However, the Greeks, highly superstitious as they were, believed that calling it “Inhospitable Sea” is a bad omen. To them, it denotes something sinister or threatening.
Thenceforth, they changed the name to Eúxeinos Póntos or Euxine Sea. It literally means “Hospitable Sea”. This was also after they colonized the southern coasts and eliminated the savage tribes.
The Sea in the North
On the reign of the Achaemenids, bodies of water were named in reference to colors. It’s like color coding certain directions for simpler understanding.
Black or dark represents the North, red the South, white is West and green or light blue for East. This symbolism pertaining to cardinal points was used during Herodotus’ time. Ancient records found today also supports this data.
If you were part of that empire, this map would tell you about it.
Map of the Achaemenid Empire with the Red Sea (South), Mediterranean Sea (West) and the “Sea in the North”.
We can find the “Red Sea” south of the Achaemenid Empire. Before calling it the Mediterranean Sea, its other name was “White Sea”. Black Sea was called the “Sea in the North” because it was north of the empire.
But we already have a “Sea in the North” which is the North Sea but that’s another story for some other time.
Dark Color Beneath the Waters
Though it has been mistakenly named for its color, there has been instances where the water in the Euxine Sea darkened or at least created a black sludge.
During intense storms, the sea appears to look black. Sailors mostly noticed it especially during winter when clouds cover the skies. Thick fog also blocks the sun from penetrating into the waters thereby making the water look gloomy.
People found old shipwrecks dating back to ancient times. The black sludge covering those boatsreinforces the idea of calling it the Black Sea.
Black Sea Interesting Facts
Though its name spells doom, gloom and peril, the these waters is one of the most interesting sea out there.
It continues to amaze seafarers, marine biologists, scientists and tourists from around the world. In fact, some of the world’s best holiday destinations are found within its coastlines.
1. Second Biggest Sea in Europe
Black Sea covers an area of 168,500 square miles which is the second biggest sea in Europe, next to the Mediterranean Sea.
The deepest part is 2,212 meters with a total volume of 131,000 cubic miles. Its longest east to west extent is 730 miles (research comparable distances). Though it is that huge, only six major rivers surround it namely Danube, Dnieper, Dniester, Don, Southern Bug and the Rioni.
2. Largest Meromictic Basin
Here’s an interesting fact: the upper layers of water do not intermix with the deeper layers water. That is the reason why it’s called meromictic.
This condition makes 90% of its deeper part anoxic or empty of oxygen. The oxygen rich (upper) layer is not able to circulate below.
As a result, marine life primarily exists from the top up to a few hundred meters of its depth. The deeper it goes, the less oxygen it has until it reaches zero from approximately 200 meters.
3. Has Currents. No Tide
For us seafolks, the presence of currents normally indicate the presence of tide. But not in the Black Sea.
This body of water has no tide throughout the year which means that the water level doesn’t change.
Two types of currents exist here. First is the water-driven currents that happens at the surface. Second is the newly discovered undersea current which goes through the Bosporus Strait.
Besides the horizontal currents, there are also vertical currents or “upwelling” but only limited from the water surface down to 200 meters.
4. Two-lane Currents
Double currents occur in the Bosporus Strait and and the Kerch Strait.
This is how they work.
Less dense and less saline waters from the Black Sea flows on the surface of the Bosporus Strait to the Sea of Marmara.
Since the waters coming from the Sea of Marmara is more saline and denser, its inflow to the Black Sea takes place under the strait.
Due to this phenomenon, scientist discovered the presence of undersea currents along the bottom of the “Hospitable Sea”.
The situation is the same in Kerch Strait.
5. Landlocked Sea
As you can see in the map, the “Euxine Sea” is mostly covered by land. Remember that it is called a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean. In other words, it is still part of the Atlantic Ocean through series of straits.
The only way to get in and get out of “The Sea in the North” is to pass through the Bosporus Strait.
This means that Turkey has the monopoly (if they want to) over the other five countries surrounding the Black Sea- Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia and Russia.
Surrounding countries are Turkey, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria.
6. 2,500 Years
It would take 2,500 years if we were to completely “recycle” the water in the Black Sea.
In other words, adding new water while simultaneously filling it up using the Turkish Straits takes 2 and a half millennium to finish.
This is because the water exchange in the Bosporus is very slow and the channel itself is very narrow.
7. World’s Largest Body of Water Containing Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S)
Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) is a very dangerous gas. It smells like rotten eggs in tolerable concentrations. At higher amounts, your sense of smell begins to numb until you start losing consciousness and eventually die.
I was surprised that the Black Sea contains the biggest amounts of H2S. Aside from the gas itself being fatal, its also highly flammable!
This is another reason why marine life only exists from the water surface up to a depth of 200 meters.
Computer models show that in an event of meteorite hitting Eúxeinos Póntos, the release of hydrogen sulphide could wipe out life on the Black Sea coasts.
Impending catastrophe. Perhaps this could be one explanation behind its name.
8. 50% Lower Salinity
Salinity of the waters in the Hospitable Sea is 50% lower than that of the oceans even though both share the same chemical composition.
Surface water in this region has a salinity of 17 PSU (particle salinity unit). Meanwhile, the water coming from the Mediterranean is 38 PSU. It reduces to 34 PSU once it reaches the Hospitable Sea.
The salinity increases with depth up to 21 PSU at roughly 50 t0 150 meters. Deepest parts of the Black Sea has about 28 to 30 PSU.
Salinity increases to 38 PSU at the Bosporus.
9. No Black Sea Bass
For the gourmets and fish enthusiasts out there, ironically, the Black Sea Bass doesn’t exist in Euxine Sea. It only thrives along the US Atlantic coast from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico.
Black Sea Bass is a kind of fish which you can cook and serve grilled, sauteed, broiled and steamed. It is also a popular fish for sport.
A black sea bass fish.
10. Hitler’s Lost Fleet
Recently, divers found three of the six U-class submarines (U-18, U-19, U-20, U-21, U-22, U-23) at the bottom of the Black Sea.
Dubbed as “Hitler’s Lost Fleet”, these subs were deployed to score against the Soviet fleet in that region.
The only way for these subs to go in (and out) the Black Sea was to use the Bosporus Strait. However, Turkey didn’t allow any military vessel to use that passage invoking the Montreux Convention.
Because of that, the Nazis disassembled the submarines, load them into trucks which travels 2,000 miles from Germany!
The divers discovered U-boats U-19, U20 and U-23 a few miles off the coast of Turkey.
Remnants off the sunken German U-23 submarine found beneath the Hospitable Sea.