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The Earth and the Ocean Basins
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Bottom Configuration of Adjacent Seas

It is beyond the scope of this volume to present charts or descriptions of the many marginal and adjacent seas. In table 4 are listed the area, volume, and mean depth of some of these features. The adjacent seas of the Arctic regions are shown in fig. 3, and in figs. 5 and 6 are shown the generalized topographies of the European and American Mediterraneans. Details of the topography of other marginal areas are presented elsewhere. The degree of isolation—namely, the extent to which free exchange of water with the adjacent ocean is impeded by the presence of land or submarine barriers—plays an important role in determining the characteristic distribution of properties in such regions (see chapters IV and XV).

The European Mediterranean, which comprises the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, and the waters connecting them (namely, the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmora, and the Bosporus) forms an intercontinental sea bordered by Europe, Asia, and Africa. The Mediterranean Sea occupies a deep, elongated, irregular depression with an east-west trend, and the Black Sea occupies a small and topographically simpler depression offset to the north. The Black Sea Basin, with depths exceeding 2200 m, is virtually isolated from the Mediterranean Sea proper, the connection

being restricted to a narrow and shallow channel in the Bosporus where the sill depth is only 40 m, and a similar channel in the Dardanelles where the sill depth is 70 m. In the Sea of Marmora, depths exceed 1000 m. The Mediterranean Basin, where depths reach 4600 m, is in restricted communication with the open Atlantic through the Strait of Gibraltar, which is only 20 km wide and where the sill depth is about 320 m. The peculiar oceanographic conditions that prevail in the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea (p. 642 et seq.) can be attributed to the isolation of the deeper waters.


Generalized bottom topography of the European Mediterranean. The larger basins are (I) Algiers-Provençal, (II) Tyrrhenian, (III) Ionian, (IV) Levantine, and (V) Black Sea Basin.

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The generalized topography of the European Mediterranean is shown in fig. 5, which is based on a chart prepared by Stocks (1938). The Black Sea Basin (V) is of more or less elliptical form except in the north, where there are irregular shallow seas of which the largest is the Sea of Azov, east of the Crimean Peninsula. The connection with the Mediterranean Sea is through the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmora, and the Dardanelles into the Aegean Sea, where the irregular topography is reflected in the large number of islands. The Mediterranean Sea Basin is subdivided by a series of transverse ridges with a north-south trend, parts of which extend above sea level. The primary division into the western and eastern depressions is effected by a ridge extending from Europe to Africa—namely, Italy, Sicily, and the submerged part of the elevation between these land areas and Africa. The sill depth in the strait between Sicily and Tunis is about 400 m. The Western Mediterranean, in turn, is subdivided into the Algiers-Provençal Basin (I) and the Tyrrhenian Basin (II) by the ridge extending from northwestern Italy to Tunis, from which Corsica and Sardinia rise above the sea surface. The Eastern Mediterranean is subdivided into two major depressions: the Ionian Basin (III), in which maximum depths of 4600 m are found,

and the Levantine Basin (IV) by the ridge extending from Greece to Africa. There are other isolated depressions of smaller dimensions, such as the Alboran Basin between Spain and Morocco and those between Italy and Albania in the Adriatic Sea, to the north of Crete and to the south of Cyprus.


Generalized bottom topography of the American Mediterranean. The larger basins are (I) Mexico Basin; (II) Cayman Basin and (III) Cayman Trough, in the Western Caribbean; (IV) Colombia Basin and (V) Venezuela Basin, in the Eastern Caribbean. The greatest known depth in the Atlantic Ocean, 8750 m, is located in the Puerto Rico Trough to the north of Puerto Rico.

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The American Mediterranean encompasses the partially isolated basins of the wide gulf bordered by North, Central, and South America which are separated from the open Atlantic by ridges, parts of which rise above sea level. The generalized topography of the region is shown in fig. 6, which is based on a chart by Stocks (1938). The chief difference between the European Mediterranean and the American Mediterranean is that the latter has numerous shallow and several deep connections with the open Atlantic. The topography of the American Mediterranean is extremely rugged, with deep trenches adjacent to steep-sided ridges, many of which rise above sea level. This is particularly true in the central and southern parts of the region, which are areas of pronounced gravity anomaly, volcanism, and strong seismic disturbances (Field et al, 1938). Bordering the low-lying coast of the Gulf of Mexico, off part of Honduras and Nicaragua, and surrounding the Bahama Islands are extensive shelves. The slopes leading down to deep water are in general rather steep, particularly between Cuba and Jamaica and along the

outer margin of the Bahama Islands. On the northern and outer side of the Lesser Antilles Arc is the Puerto Rico Trough, the deepest depression in the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, where the U.S.S. Milwaukee obtained a maximum sounding of 8750 m. Although there are many openings between the islands on the Lesser Antilles Arc, the openings with relatively great sill depths are few in number. In the Straits of Florida the sill depth is about 800 m, and in Windward Passage, between Cuba and Hispaniola, it is about 1600 m. A third deep channel with a sill at about 1600 m is located in Anegada and Jungfern Passages between the Virgin Islands and the Windward Islands and between the Virgin Islands and St. Croix Island. The oceanographic conditions (p. 640) indicate the presence of a small isolated basin between the Anegada and Jungfern Passages. With the exception of a channel between Dominica and Martinique with a saddle depth less than 1500 m, the Lesser Antilles Arc is continuous at depths less than 1000 m from the Windward Islands to the coast of South America.

The American Mediterranean is subdivided into two major depressions, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, by a ridge between Yucatan and Cuba, and by the island of Cuba. The sill depth in the Yucatan Channel is less than 1600 m. The Mexico Basin (I) is a relatively simple depression lacking the irregularities that characterize the topography of the Caribbean region. Maximum depths of nearly 4000 m are found in the western part of the basin. The Caribbean region is separated into two major basins, the Western and the Eastern Caribbean, by the Jamaica Rise, which extends from Honduras to Hispaniola and from which Jamaica rises above the surface. The Western Caribbean is in turn divided into Yucatan Basin (II) and the Cayman Trough (III) by the Cayman Ridge, which extends westward from the southern extremity of Cuba. The Cayman Trough is the deepest depression in the American Mediterranean, and within the Bartlett Deep to the south of Cuba the U.S.S. S-21 obtained a maximum sounding of 7200 m. The Windward Passage between Cuba and Hispaniola appears to be a continuation of the depression forming the Cayman Trough. The greatest saddle depth between the Western and Eastern Carribbean is located in the passage between Jamaica and Hispaniola, where it is about 1200 m. The Eastern Caribbean is partially divided into two basins by the Beata Ridge, which extends south and west from Hispaniola toward South America. The western portion of the depression is known as the Colombia Basin (IV) and the eastern as the Venezuela Basin (V). The Aves Swell separates a small basin with depths greater than 3000 m in the eastern part of the Venezuela Basin, which is called the Grenada Trough.

The terminology to be applied to the features of the American Mediterranean is discussed by Vaughan in the report by Vaughan et al (1940), which also includes an excellent bathymetric chart of the Caribbean region prepared by the U. S. Hydrographic Office. The currents and distribution of properties in this area are described in chapter XV, p. 637.

Basin Max. depth (m) Adjacent deep depression Surface feature Location of sill Sill depth (m) Max. depth — sill depth (m)
Arctic Mediterranean Region
North Polar Basin 5400 North Pacific Bering Strait Siberia-Alaska 55 ....
Norwegian Basin Greenland-Spitsbergen 1500 3900
Norwegian Basin 3700 North Atlantic Denmark Strait Greenland-Iceland 500 3200
North Atlantic Faeroe Is.-Scotland 500 3200
Baffin Basin 2200 North Atlantic Davis Strait Baffin Is.-Greenland 700 1500
European Mediterranean Region
Western Mediterranean Basin 3700 North Atlantic Strait of Gibraltar Gibraltar-Morocco 320 3400
Eastern Mediterranean Basin 4600 Western Mediter-ranean Sicily-Tunis 400 4200
Black Sea Basin 2200 Eastern Mediter-ranean Bosporus 40
Dardanelles 70 2200
American Mediterranean Region
Eastern Caribbean Basin 5500 North Atlantic Anegada and Jungfern Passages Virgin Is.-Lesser Antilles 1600 3900
Western Caribbean Basin 7200 North Atlantic Windward Passage Cuba-Hispaniola 1600 5600
Eastern Caribbean Jamaica Channel Jamaica-Hispaniola 1200 ....
Mexico Basin 3900 Western Caribbean Yucatan Channel Yucatan-Cuba 1600 2300
North Atlantic Strait of Florida Florida-Bahama Is 800 ....
Other Regions
Japan Sea Basin 3700 Philippines Basin Tsushima Strait Korea-Japan 150 3550
Red Sea Basin 2800 Indian Ocean Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb Somaliland-Arabia 100 2700
Baltic Sea Basin 300 North Atlantic Danish Sounds Danish Is.-Germany 20 280


Isolated basins are of great interest from an oceanographic point of view, and in table 6 are brought together some of the data relating to the larger basins in adjacent seas. This tabulation does not include the basins in the East Indian Archipelago, which are discussed elsewhere (table 87, p. 738). The maximum depth within each basin and the greatest sill depth at which there is horizontal communication with the adjacent basins are listed as well as the difference between the greatest depth in the basin and the sill depth. The latter value corresponds to the depth of the “lake” that would be formed if the water level were lowered to the greatest sill depth. It will be seen that most of the basins listed are without horizontal communication through vertical distances of 3000 to 4000 m, and that in the Yucatan Basin the greatest depth is 5600 m below the sill. In great contrast to these deep basins is the Baltic Sea (average depth, 55 m), where depths greater than 300 m are restricted to small, isolated depressions and where the sill depth is only 20 m.

In fig. 7 is shown the topography of the area off the coast of Southern California. This coastal area is one of considerable interest in that it is physiographically similar to the adjacent land area and apparently represents a down-warped portion of the continent. The continental shelf is relatively narrow, and offshore is a series of basins and ridges upon which several islands are located. In the southern part the real continental slope leading down to the oceanic abyss is approximately 150 miles from the coast. This is not shown in the map. Several small canyons are also depicted in the figure.

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