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 öland; 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 åland Isles, to which the name åland Haf has been given. North of the åland 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 Coasts - changes and character. 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.