Gulf of Bothnia

Gulf of Bothnia

Bothnia, Gulf of: see Baltic Sea.
The Gulf of Bothnia (Pohjanlahti; Bottniska viken, i.e. Bottenviken + Bottenhavet) is the northernmost arm of the Baltic Sea. It is situated between Finland's west coast and Sweden's east coast. In the south of the gulf lie the Åland Islands, between the Sea of Åland and the Archipelago Sea.


Bothnia is a Latinization of Old Norse botn , meaning "bottom". 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 Västerbotten on the western side and Österbotten the eastern side ("East Bottom" and "West Bottom"). The Finnish name of Österbotten, Pohjanmaa, or "Pohja"-land, gives a hint as to the meaning in both languages: pohja means both "bottom" and "north."

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).

A second possibility is that botten follows an alternative Scandinavian connotation of 'furthermost'. Thus, the Gulf of Bothnia would be the farthest extent of the Ocean.

Julius Pokorny gives the extended 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 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.

Which meaning prevailed is a distinction that may be too precise to determine, especially as European cultures tended to assimilate and exchange cultural elements.

The third possibility is that botten is a mistranslation of pohja in pohjanmaa, as pohja in Finnish means both north and bottom. The common translation for Pohjanlahti is "the bay in the north," which makes sense. "The bay of the bottom" doesn't make sense, but could have been translated so by a Swedish speaking person who wasn't well versed in Finnish. These types of translation errors are common in Finland, so the explanation seems reasonable. However, whether Pohjanmaa was translated to botten or vice versa is a question for history, archaeology, and politics, and relates to who settled and named the region first.

Geophysical data

The gulf is 725 km (450 mi) long, 80-240 km (50-150 mi) wide and has an average depth of 60 m (200 ft, 33 fathoms). The maximum depth is 295 m (965 ft, 161 fathoms). The surface area is 117,000 km² (45,200 sq mi). The northernmost point is situated in Töre in the Bothnian Bay.

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 that one can no longer taste the salt in the water and many freshwater fish thrive in it. Being nearly fresh, the gulf is frozen over five months every year. The icing of the Baltic sea begins and ends there.

Geological history

For the geological history of the entire region, refer to the Baltic Sea.


Some historians suggest that the adventurer Ottar was referring to the Gulf of Bothnia when he spoke of the Kven Sea in the 9th century. It is also possible that Claudius Clavus's usage of the term Mare Gotticus in the 15th century refers to the Gulf of Bothnia.


The land surrounding the Gulf of Bothnia is heavily forested. Trees are logged, then transported to the coast for milling.




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