Straddled by the African and European continents, the Mediterranean Sea has influenced countless lives throughout history. Once owned and policed by the Romans, this idyllic tourist magnet now drags in millions of visitors each year who clamour for the sun, sea, and a particularly warm surf. Additionally, the Med is a hotspot of industrial action with flotillas of ships cutting through azure blue waves each year to transport products both big and small. Regardless of your interest in The Med, there is surely still plenty for you to learn, so join me as I run through 40 facts about the Mediterranean Sea.
Fact 1: The Mediterranean Sea, or the Atlantic Mediterranean Sea as it’s sometimes called, is almost completely enveloped by the Mediterranean Basin which is made up of Europe, Africa, and Eurasia.
Fact 2: Around 5.9 million years ago, the Mediterranean Sea almost completely evaporated away after it was cut off from the Atlantic Ocean. This was known as the Messinian Salinity Crisis. It got this name because as the sea slowly evaporated away, the salinity of the water increased to the point where all life in the water died. Eventually, 500,000 years later, the Zanclean Flood started to rapidly refill the Mediterranean Sea, decreasing salinity levels, and returning life back to the once barren sea.
Fact 3: Because the Mediterranean is largely cut off from the Atlantic Ocean by the Strait of Gibraltar, the Sea doesn’t experience large tides. In fact, the average tidal range in The Med is only 5 cm. Whereas the average tidal range in the Atlantic Ocean is 100 cm.
Fact 4: The Mediterranean is greatly affected by localised climate change. In the 30 year period between 1959 and 1989, the deepwater average temperature of The Med increased by 0.12 °C. This may not sound like a lot, but, when it comes to climate change, small changes in temperature lead to big changes in sea conditions. For example, if the ocean consistently increases in temperature at this rate, the Mediterranean Sea level will rise about 60 cm by 2100 because of thermal expansion of the water.
Fact 5: The Mediterranean Sea’s deepest point is extremely deep for such a small sea. At 5,267 meters deep, Calypso Deep, located in the Hellenic Trench, is The Med’s deepest point. That’s the equivalent height of getting 3010 average height men standing on each other’s heads!
Fact 6: Every day, more water escapes from the Mediterranean through evaporation than what is replaced by rainfall and rivers. However, the level of the Mediterranean doesn’t go down. Why is that? Well, water is constantly flowing in through the Straits of Gibraltar from the Atlantic Ocean. This massive inflow generates extremely strong currents that swirl and edge all throughout the Mediterranean Sea.
Fact 7: The Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea are joined by a 163 km long artificial canal called the Suez Canal. Completed in 1869, the Suez Canal, provides access for cargo ships sailing too and from East Asia.
Fact 8: Any given atom of water in the Mediterranean Sea will spend on average 90 years swirling around in the sea. After living its Mediterranean life, the little atom of water will leave the sea in many ways including evaporation, moving out towards the Atlantic ocean, moving into the groundwater in the bedrock of the sea, for drinking water, or for industrial purposes.
Fact 9: Before the ancient Romans had expanded their empire, they called the Mediterranean Sea by two names: Mare Internum which means ‘Internal Sea’, and Mare Magnum which means ‘Great Sea’. After the Romans conquered most of Europe and Northern Africa, they changed its name, and rightly so, to Mare Nostrum, which means, ‘Our Sea’.
Fact 10: The temperature of the water in the deepest parts of the Mediterranean Sea is 13.2 °C (55.8 °F). Most of Earth’s Oceans have a deep-sea temperature of around 0 oC.
Fact 11: There is one nation that includes a map of the Mediterranean Sea on their national flag. That nation is Cyprus. Which is unsurprising really since they are an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.
Fact 12: The Mediterranean Sea is connected to the Atlantic Ocean by a very narrow 14 km wide stretch of water called the Strait of Gibraltar. Throughout history, the strait has been a very important tactical position from a military point of view. Additionally, because of the narrowness of the strait, there have been many plans proposed to build bridges or tunnels to join Europe to North Africa.
Fact 13: The Med connects to the Black Sea, the sea north of Turkey, via the Bosporus Strait which runs through the middle of Istanbul.
Fact 14: The total volume of all the water in the Mediterranean Sea is 3,750,000 km3. You’d think that would be a lot, but when compared to oceans, it’s just a drop, pardon the pun, in the ocean. For example, the total volume of all the water in the Atlantic Ocean is estimated to be some 354,700,000 km3. That’s 95 times more water than The Mediterranean!
Fact 15: Because of the effects of climate change, the Mediterranean Sea could rise by as much as 61 cm by the year 2100.
Fact 16: From the Strait of Gibraltar all the way over to the Gulf of Iskenderun on Turkey’s southern coast, the Mediterranean Sea is over 4,000 Kilometers wide!
Fact 17: The highest average water temperature in the Mediterranean Sea can be found in the Gulf of Sidra off the coast of the African country Libya. Here water warms to a temperature of 31°C! That is about the same as the water temperature that you’d get in a Hot Tub!
Fact 18: Some of the major towns and cities that surround the Mediterranean Sea include Alexandria, Athens, Carthage, the ancient city of Rome, Tel Aviv, Tunis, Algiers, the football-loving city of Barcelona, Beirut, and The Turkish capital Istanbul.
Fact 19: Sadly, while attempting to flee their home nation because of war or famine, large numbers of migrants have drowned in the past after their boats have capsized while attempting to navigate the Mediterranean Sea. Around 20,000 have died while attempting the cross up to the year 2019.
Fact 20: If the Mediterranean Sea rose by as little as 30 cm because of global warming, 200 km2 of land on the Nile delta would become uninhabitable. Unfortunately, this would displace 500,000 Egyptian citizens.
Fact 21: The med makes up just 0.7% of the global ocean surface.
Fact 22: The Strait of Sicily, a shallow submerged ridge of mountains that runs between Tunisia in North Africa and the island of Sicily, divides the Mediterranean into two main sections. The West section makes up about ⅓ of the Mediternain sea, while the eastern section is responsible for ⅔ of the Mediterranean Sea.
Fact 23: The ancient Mediterranean coastline was largely colonised by two civilizations. These were the Greek City-States, such as Massalia which is modern-day Marseille, and the Phoenicians.
Fact 24: The Mediterranean Sea has a total surface area of 2,500,000 km2. For comparison, that’s just a little smaller than the country of Argentina in South America which has a surface area of, 2,780,400
Fact 25: The Mediterranean is often imagined as being surrounded by sun-kissed lands, groves of olive trees, and flat-roofed terracotta clad homes for the retired to spend their golden years. But this is only true for the northern coast. Much of the southern African coast is an extremely hot desert where beaches of sand become seas of sand that extend well into the content.
Fact 26: Wherever humans call home huge volumes of pollution are sure to follow. And sadly, that’s the same with The Mediterranean. Every year, huge volumes of pollution are poured into the sea without a second thought for the delicate balance between ecosystem and animal life. For example, 650 million tonnes of raw sewage is pumped into the sea every year along with 60,000 tonnes of Mercury and 36,000 tonnes of Phosphates from farming activities.
Fact 27: The sea was owned by the ancient Romans for centuries and they controlled who could use the sea and who couldn’t.
Fact 28: Many coastal areas throughout The Mediterranean Sea have underwater springs called Karst Springs that pump millions of litres of fresh warm water into The Med each day.
Fact 29: The longest river in the world, the Nile, flows into The Med. The Nile is over 6,650 km and dumps millions of tonnes of silt into the Mediterranean Sea every year.
Fact 30: The total length of the Mediterranean Sea’s coastline is 46,000 km. It would take you 383 days walking non-stop, at a pace of 5km/h, to walk the entire coast.
Fact 31: A shipwreck dating back 3,600 years was discovered on the bed of the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Turkey, that contained multiple copper ingots that each weighed over 1.5 tonnes. It is the oldest known shipwreck ever found in the Mediterranean Sea.
Fact 32: Every year, approximately 220,000 merchant vessels that weigh over 100 tonnes sail the Mediterranean Sea to deliver cargo. That’s about 1/3rd of all the sea-based cargo shipping that takes place on the planet.
Fact 33: There are approximately 3300 islands in the Mediterranean Sea.
Fact 34: The countries of Italy, Spain, France, Tunisia, Slovenia, Monaco, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Turkey, Cyprus, Albania, Greece, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, and Malta all have one thing in common: They all have a shoreline on the Mediterranean Sea.
Fact 35: The sea is divided into many other smaller seas to aid navigation. These seas include:
- the Strait of Gibraltar
- the Levantine Sea at the eastern end of the Mediterranean
- the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey
- the Adriatic Sea between Italy, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania
- the Cilician Sea between Turkey and Cyprus
- the Tyrrhenian Sea enclosed by Sardinia, the Italian peninsula, and Sicily
- the Ligurian Sea between Corsica and Liguria
- the Ionian Sea between Italy, Albania, and Greece
- the Alboran Sea, between Spain and Morocco
- the Balearic Sea, between mainland Spain and its Balearic Islands
- the Sea of Sardinia, between Sardinia and Balearic Islands, as a part of the Balearic Sea
- the Sea of Sicily between Sicily and Tunisia
- the Libyan Sea between Libya and Crete
Fact 36: The Mediterranean Sea is often considered a part of the Atlantic Ocean. However, most oceanographers say it’s a separate body of water.
Fact 37: The Mediterranean Sea can actually be considered a desert because of its extremely low levels of precipitation.
Fact 38: The average depth of the Mediterranean is 1,500 meters. For comparison, the average depth of the Atlantic Ocean that the Med joins onto is 3,300 metres.
Fact 39: The Mediterranean Sea’s largest island is Italy’s Sicily. It has an area of 25,460 km2 and has a population of 5,048,995 Sicilians.
Fact 40: The Mediterranean was called by 3 names in Ancient Egypt. They were Wadj-wr, Wadj-Wer, and Wadj-Ur.
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