The Black Sea is an inland sea bounded by Europe, Anatolia and the Caucasus and is ultimately connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas and various straits. The Bosphorus strait connects it to the Sea of Marmara, and the strait of the Dardanelles connects that sea to the Aegean Sea region of the Mediterranean. These waters separate eastern Europe and western Asia. The Black Sea also connects to the Sea of Azov by the Strait of Kerch.
The Black Sea has an area of 436400 km2 (168495 sqmi) (not including the Sea of Azov), a maximum depth of 2212 m (7257.2 ft), and a volume of 547000 km3 (166725.6 c�mi). The Black Sea forms in an east-west trending elliptical depression which lies between Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine. It is constrained by the Pontic Mountains to the south, the Caucasus Mountains to the east and features a wide shelf to the northwest. The longest east-west extent is about 1,175 km.
Important cities along the coast include Batumi, Burgas, Constanţa, Giresun, Hopa, Istanbul, Kerch, Kherson, Mangalia, Năvodari, Novorossiysk, Odessa, Ordu, Poti, Rize, Samsun, Sevastopol, Sochi, Sukhumi, Trabzon, Varna, Yalta and Zonguldak.
The Black Sea has a positive water balance; that is, a net outflow of water 300 km3 per year through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles into the Aegean Sea. Mediterranean water flows into the Black Sea as part of a two-way hydrological exchange. The Black Sea outflow is cooler and less saline, and therefore floats over the warm, more saline Mediterranean inflow, leading to a significant anoxic layer well below the surface waters. The Black Sea also receives river water from large Eurasian fluvial systems to the north of the Sea, of which the Don, Dnieper and Danube are the most significant.
In the past, the water level has varied significantly. Due to these variations in the water level in the basin the surrounding shelf and associated aprons have sometimes been land. At certain critical water levels it is possible for connections with surrounding water bodies to become established. It is through the most active of these connective routes, the Turkish Straits, that the Black Sea joins the world ocean. When this hydrological link is not present, the Black Sea is a lake, operating independently of the global ocean system. Currently the Black Sea water level is relatively high, thus water is being exchanged with the Mediterranean. The Turkish Straits connect the Black and Aegean Seas and comprise the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles.