Dam across the Caspian Sea

Have you ever heard about this project? We have! So, make yourself comfortable, and let's get started.

Hardly anybody would dare argue with the fact that Russia is capable of handling large-scale projects. You have Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, the 87-story skyscraper Lakhta Center in St. Petersburg, the railway bridge across the Kerch Strait, and so many others. These construction projects are huge and expensive. However, the scale of the dam across the Caspian Sea is set to eclipse these gigantic projects.


Let’s start with the fact that the first thoughts of damming the Caspian Sea date back to 1940. As you can understand, the country was not ready to embark on such a massive project. Forty years later, the project was revived again and a "test dam" was built. But what was it all for?

The Caspian Sea is getting shallower. Given that the Russian part of the shore is getting ever flat, a 1 mm drop in water levels leads to water moving away 10 meters from the shores. If the water level drops by 1 meter, we will get thousands of square kilometers of desert and major devastating changes in the region’s ecosystem. Port cities will find themselves located too far from the sea, which will have a negative impact on navigation and logistics.

Let’s not also forget that the shallow sea freezes strongly in winter, forming heavy drifting ice, which is also not very helpful for navigation and oil rigs in the Caspian Sea.

Let's return to the first dam. It was built by the Soviet Union in the 1980s, separating the Kara-Bogaz-Gol gulf from the main mirror of the Caspian Sea. By the way, this depression is about the size of the Crimea. Due to its shallow depth, it warmed up very much and served as a giant evaporation pan for the Caspian Sea. The dam solved this problem, but as a result, the water levels in the sea rose, and the gulf on the contrary dried up, which led to sand and salt storms in its vicinity. That was why the dam was blown up in 1994, and today the gulf has recovered.

Let's go back to the sea. If you dam the northern part of the Caspian Sea, the sea level would rise considerably, and its salt levels would fall in the nearest future, as the main rivers feeding the sea are situated in this part of it. This means we get a huge reservoir containing thousands of cubic kilometers of freshwater.

So, what benefits can Russia gain from having a dam across the Caspian Sea? Let's start with the road running along the dam, or rather it can be called a transcontinental highway, which will facilitate cargo and passenger transportation between Europe and Asia. Do you think China might be interested in this?

We mentioned that there will be a difference in water levels between the northern and southern parts, and this is fraught with the construction of a powerful hydroelectric power station at the dam and billions of kilowatts of energy. But such a project would come with enough pros and cons.

Money. Even with several countries joining hands to invest, such a project would still gulp huge amounts of money.

Navigation. On one hand, it will improve, but on the other, ships will be able to sail to the southern part of the sea through just a few places equipped with locks.

Neighbors. The southern part of the Caspian Sea washes the coasts of Turkmenistan, Iran, and Azerbaijan, and these states are unlikely to embrace the salinization and shallowing of the sea.

Water level. What if the water level in the northern part rises so much that the dam goes underwater? Moreover, there is this theory that the filling and draining of the Caspian Sea is a cyclical process.

Ecology. Fish and animals will be better off in the north, but what about in the south?

In total, there are several issues, which have delayed the project kickoff. As interesting and ambitious are also the thoughts about having a bridge over the Caspian Sea or a tunnel under it

Whether it was a good idea or a bad one, whether this dam was needed then or now, unfortunately, we can only answer these questions only by constructing the project first.