Seeing the Shapes of Seas: One Easy Example and One Extremely Difficult One

The previous GeoCurrents post argued that even geographically informed people have a difficult time recognizing the shapes of seas and other large water bodies, due largely to our intrinsic tendency to prioritize land over water. But this tendency does not always come into play. The Mediterranean Sea, for example, is easily recognizable. But this is because we readily discern the large peninsulas that jut into it, rather than the sea itself. Lacking such peninsulas, the Baltic Sea is less seen (see the second image below).

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The shape of one sea is particularly difficult to identify, even though it is very large  (1,583,000 km2; 611,200 sq mi) and clearly defined. It is also the site of a significant and seemingly unresolvable territorial dispute between two powerful countries. But given its peripheral location for both of those countries, as well as the low population density of the lands that (nearly) surround it, it tends to slip off our conceptual maps. The four final shapes (below) reveal this sea in sequential stages.

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