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Gulf of Bothnia

Coordinates: 63°N 20°E / 63°N 20°E / 63; 20
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Map of the Baltic Sea, showing the Gulf of Bothnia in the upper half
Satellite image of Fennoscandia in winter. The northern part of the Gulf of Bothnia, the Bothnian Bay, is covered with sea ice.

The Gulf of Bothnia (/ˈbɒθniə/; Finnish: Pohjanlahti; Swedish: Bottniska viken) is divided into the Bothnian Bay and Bothnian Sea, and it is the northernmost arm of the Baltic Sea, between Finland's west coast (East Bothnia) and the northern part of Sweden's east coast (West Bothnia and North Bothnia). In the south of the gulf lies Åland, between the Sea of Åland and the Archipelago Sea.



Bothnia is a latinization. The Swedish name Bottenviken was originally just Botn(en), with botn being Old Norse for "gulf" or "bay",[1] which is also the meaning of the second element vik.

The name botn was applied to the Gulf of Bothnia as Helsingjabotn in Old Norse, after Hälsingland, which at the time referred to the coastland west of the gulf. Later, botten was applied to the regions of Västerbotten on the western side and Österbotten on the eastern side ('West Bottom' and 'East Bottom'). The Finnish name of Österbotten, Pohjanmaa (maa, meaning 'land'), gives a hint as to the meaning in both languages: the meaning of pohja includes both 'bottom' and 'north'. Pohja is the base word for north, pohjoinen, with an adjectival suffix added.[2]

Botn/botten is cognate with the English word bottom, and it might be part of a general north European distinction of lowlands, as opposed to highlands, such as the Netherlandic region, Samogitia (Lithuanian), and Sambia (Russia).[clarification needed]

Julius Pokorny gives the extended Proto-Indo-European root as *bhudh-m(e)n with a *bhudh-no- variant, from which the Latin fundus, as in fundament, is derived. The original meaning of English north, from Proto-Indo-European *ner- 'under', indicates an original sense of 'lowlands' for bottomlands. On the other hand, by north the classical authors usually meant 'outermost', as the northern lands were outermost to them. In Saami, the cardinal directions were named according to the different parts of the typical tent used by this nomadic people. The door of the tent was traditionally pointed south, in the most sunny direction, and the bottom of the tent would be aligned with the north. Thus the origin of the word pohja in its use as 'north'. According to Lönnrot, north was viewed as the bottom direction because the lowest point of the sun's path is there.


Depiction of the gulf, circa 1830

The International Hydrographic Organization defines the southern limit of the Gulf of Bothnia as follows:[3]

From Simpnäsklubb (59°54'N) in Sweden, to Flötjan, Lagskær [sic], Fæstörne [sic], Kökarsörn, and Vænö-Kalkskær [sic] to the SW point of Hangöudde (Hangö Head, 59°49'N) in Finland, thus including Åland and adjacent shoals and channels in the Gulf of Bothnia.

June 2006 view of the Gulf of Bothnia in Finland.
Pilot station and lighthouse in the Hailuoto Island, a municipality island at the Bothnian Bay near the city of Oulu
Sandy beaches of Kalajoki at the shores of the Gulf of Bothnia

The gulf is 725 km (450 mi) long, 80–240 km (50–149 mi) wide and has an average depth of 60 m (200 ft; 33 fathoms). The maximum depth is 295 m (968 ft; 161 fathoms). The surface area is 117,000 km2 (45,000 sq mi). The northernmost point is situated in Töre in the Bothnian Bay. its coordinates are 65° 54'07" N 22° 39'00 E.[4]

The depth and surface area of the Gulf of Bothnia are constantly decreasing, as the land is rising after it had been pressed down by about 2,600 to 3,300 feet (790 to 1,010 meters)[5] by the continental ice during last ice age. The rise is 80 cm every hundred years.[6] It is estimated that the land has a further 300 to 400 feet (91 to 122 meters) to rise before equilibrium is reached. This recovery rate will progressively slow as isostatic equilibrium is approached.[5]

Into the gulf flow a number of rivers from both sides; consequently, a salinity gradient exists from north to south. In the south the water is the normal brackish water of the Baltic Sea, but in the north, in the Bothnian Bay, the salinity is so low,[7] from 0.4% near Kvarken to 0.2% in the northernmost part,[8] that many freshwater fish such as the pike, whitefish and perch thrive in it.[6]

The gulf is a combination of the Bothnian Bay in the north and the Bothnian Sea in the south, separated by the Kvarken region with a water depth of around 25 metres (82 ft) and a rate of land rising of almost 10 mm (0.39 inches) a year. Within 2000 years the bay is expected to separate from the rest of the gulf and become a freshwater lake.

Being nearly fresh, the gulf is frozen over five months every year. The icing of the Baltic Sea begins and ends in the northern Gulf of Bothnia. Traffic restrictions for icebreaker assistance are typically in force for all the gulf from late January to late April and for the northernmost ports from the middle of December to the middle of May.[9]



Geologically the Gulf of Bothnia is an ancient depression of tectonic origin. The depression is partly filled with sedimentary rock deposited in the Precambrian and Paleozoic. Nearby plains adjoining the gulf are part of the Sub-Cambrian peneplain. While being repeatedly covered by glaciers during the last 2.5 million years glacial erosion has had a limited effect in changing the topography.[10]

It is estimated that within about 2,000 years, ongoing post-glacial rebound will raise the seafloor in the Norra Kvarken area above water, splitting the Gulf of Bothnia into a southern gulf and northern lake.[11]



The gulf was not known by ancient and medieval geographers and as late as in 1427 not indicated by the Danish cartographer Claudius Clavus, not even in the map of Hartmann Schedel, printed in 1493. The first map in which the gulf has been delineated, although without name, is that of Nicolaus Germanus from the year 1482.[12]



The land surrounding the Gulf of Bothnia is heavily forested. Trees are logged, then transported to the coast for milling. The gulf is also important for oil transport to the coastal cities and ore transport to steel mills, for instance in Raahe.

In terms of tonnage in international traffic, the largest ports on the Finnish side are Rauma, Kokkola and Tornio.[13] The main ports of the Swedish side are in Luleå, Skellefteå, Umeå, Sundsvall, Gävle and Hargshamn. In Luleå, iron ore pellets are exported and coal is imported. Gävle is Sweden's third-largest container port. It also ships forest products and oil.[14] In port operations in the Gulf of Bothnia, icebreaker assistance can be required for an ice season that averages as long as six months; whereas in the Gulf of Finland, the icebreaking season averages only three months.[15]

There is some fishery, mainly Baltic herring, for domestic needs. A persistent problem has been pollution, because the sea is enclosed by a large drainage basin and is poorly connected to fresher waters from the Atlantic. Mercury and PCB levels have been relatively high, although the Finnish Food Safety Authority considers the herring edible. Although the levels exceed the limits, the fatty acids have health benefits that offset this risk.



Cities and towns



  1. ^ Svensk etymologisk ordbok / (in Swedish)
  2. ^ "suomen kielisten ilmansuuntien etymologia". Kysy.fi. 26 July 2006. Archived from the original on 19 November 2016. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  3. ^ "Limits of Oceans and Seas, 3rd edition" (PDF). International Hydrographic Organization. 1953. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 October 2011. Retrieved 28 December 2020.
  4. ^ "Töre båthamn". hamnar i Kalix (in Swedish). bottenviken.se. Retrieved 1 December 2015.
  5. ^ a b Geologica: Earth’s Dynamic Forces by Dr Robert R. Coenraads and John I. Koivula
  6. ^ a b "About the Bay of Bothnia". Bottenvikens Skargård. Archived from the original on 5 October 2013. Retrieved 1 December 2015.
  7. ^ "Gulf of Bothnia". ku.lt. Archived at the Wayback Machine. Archived from the original on 10 March 2007.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  8. ^ "Perämeren erityispiirteet". ymparisto.fi. Archived from the original on 21 January 2012.
  9. ^ Typical restrictions to navigation 1994/95-2003/04 (pdf) Archived 1 December 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Lidmar-Bergström, Karna (1997). "A long-term perspective on glacial erosion". Earth Surface Processes and Landforms. 22 (3): 297–306. Bibcode:1997ESPL...22..297L. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1096-9837(199703)22:3<297::AID-ESP758>3.0.CO;2-R.
  11. ^ Tikkanen, Matti; Oksanen, Juha (2002). "Late Weichselian and Holocene shore displacement history of the Baltic Sea in Finland". Fennia. 180 (1–2). Retrieved 22 December 2017.
  12. ^ Erkki Fredrikson: Suomi 500 vuotta Euroopan kartalla. Gummerus, 2005. Pages 12-16, ISBN 9789512061877
  13. ^ "Table 4. Statistics on international shipping 2014" (PDF). Statistics from the Finnish Transport Agency. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 December 2015. Retrieved 1 December 2015.
  14. ^ Havsplanering p. 92 (in Swedish)
  15. ^ "Climate change creates new prerequisites for shipping". Climate Guide. SYKE, Aalto University, YTK & Finnish Met. Institute. Archived from the original on 20 October 2017. Retrieved 1 December 2015.

63°N 20°E / 63°N 20°E / 63; 20