Color of the Seas: What’s Behind the Names?

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Oceans and seas are literally blue when we view them because of the reflection of the sky. That’s why these

bodies of water are usually represented by the color blue on the map or globe. There are about 114 seas all over

the world. Four of these seas are named White Sea, Black Sea, Red Sea and Yellow Sea. Then, why is it that

there is no ocean or sea that was named Blue Ocean or Blue Sea? Let’s find out what’s the connection of the

colors on their names.

Yellow Sea


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Why did they call this sea “Yellow Sea”? The Yellow Sea is a shallow arm of the Pacific Ocean bet China and

Korea. It covers roughly 180,000 square mi (470 km2) and reaches a maximum depth of about 300 ft or 90 m. Its

name comes from the sand particles that color its water, originating from the Huang He or Yellow River. Literally

speaking, this sea is named Yellow Sea because it’s really yellow.


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White Sea


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How about the White Sea? Is it really white? The White Sea is an inlet of the Barrents Sea. It extends 365 mi or

587 km into the northern European part of Russia. The mouth of the White Sea lies south and east of the Kola

Peninsula and the sea attains depths up to 1,100 ft 0r 330 m. It is frozen over from September to May (this could

be the reason why they named it the White Sea) but ice-breaking ships keep sections of the sea open during

winter. As the photo below implies, the sea appears to be really white.


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Red Sea


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Does the Red Sea really look red? Imagine yourself bathing or swimming in Red Sea, if it’s literally colored red, it’s

like swimming in a sea of blood. Ooh… that’s gross! The Red Sea is a salt water inlet of the Indian Ocean

between Africa and Asia. The sea is connected with Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal. Occupying a

part of the Great Rift Valley, the Red Sea has a surface area of about 438,000 km² (169,100 square miles). The

sea is the habitat of over 1,000 invertebrate species and 200 soft and hard corals and is the world’s northernmost

tropical sea.

There is no specific detail on the origin of the name of Red Sea. Here are some theories regarding the origin of its


  • The name of the sea may signify the seasonal blooms of the red-colored cyanobacteria Trichodesmium erythraeum near the water’s surface.
  • Some suggest that it refers to the mineral-rich red mountains nearby which are called Harei Edom. Edom, meaning “ruddy complexion”, is also an alternative Hebrew name for the red-faced biblical character Esau (brother of Jacob), and the nation descended from him, the Edomites, which in turn provides yet another possible origin for Red Sea.
  • Yet another theory favored by some modern scholars is that the name red is referring to the direction south, the same way the Black Sea’s name may refer to north. The basis of this theory is that some Asiatic languages used color words to refer to the cardinal directions. Herodotus on one occasion uses Red Sea and Southern Sea interchangeably.
  • A final theory suggests that it was named so because it borders the Egyptian Desert which the ancient Egyptians called the Dashret or “red land”; therefore it would have been the sea of the red land.


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Black Sea


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How creepy is it to see a sea which is literally black? Is there really such a thing? The Black Sea is an inland body

of water between Asia Minor and Europe, bordered by Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania.

It connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Mediterranean Sea and Aegean Sea and various straits. The Black Sea

has an area of 436,400 km2 (168,495 sq mi), and a maximum depth of 2,200 m (7,200 ft).)

Why did they call it the Black Sea? Well, here are some bases regarding the origin of the name.

  • The reason for the name may be an ancient assignment of colors to the direction of the compass — black referring to the north, and red referring to the south. Herodotus on one occasion uses Red Sea and Southern Sea interchangeably.
  • Another possible explanation comes from the color of the Black Sea’s deep waters. Being further north than the Mediterranean Sea and much less saline, the microalgae concentration is much richer, causing the dark color. Visibility in the Black Sea is on average approximately five meters, as compared to up to thirty-five meters in the Mediterranean.
  • One Bulgarian understanding of the name is that the sea used to be quite stormy.
  • In naval science, the Black Sea is thought to have received its name because of its hydrogen sulfide layer that begins about 200 meters below the surface, and supports a unique microbial population which produces black sediments probably due to anaerobic methane oxidation.


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Accurate or not, somehow, the origins of the names of these seas are related or partly associated to the colors

that bear their names.

Hope you had a wonderful time reading this. Thanks!


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