The Sea of Crete covers the region north of the island of Crete to the Kiklades Plateau, underlying the islands of the Cyclades. On an east-west axis, the sea extends from the island of Kapathos in the Greek Dodecanese islands in the east to Kythira just south of the Peloponese Peninsula in the west.
The sea, which has an average depth of 1000 metres (3280 feet) includes the deepest region of the Aegean near the northeastern coast of the island of Crete (3294 metres)
The Sea of Crete includes several majors currents and water masses:
Modifed Atlantic Water (from the Atlantic Ocean) enters the Cretan Sea mainly through the Antikithira Strait but occasionally through the Kasos Strait. It is carried within the surface and/or sub-surface layers by the Mid–Mediterranean Jet, a surface current that meanders across the eastern basin of the Mediterranean Sea.
Black Sea Water flows in at the surface from the north and west Aegean and reaches the Myrtoan Sea. A diluted form of this flow reaches the Cretan Sea.
The Asia Minor Current, a meandering current flowing westward and then northward along the Turkish coast and the southeastern coast of Rhodes, carries the surface saline waters that extend over large areas of the Cretan Sea. This input leads to the formation of highly saline Cretan Intermediate Water (CIW) within the Cretan Sea. Variability in the salinity of CIW can be attributed to the extent to which modifed Atlantic Water participates in the formation process.
Levantine Intermediate Water (LIW) enters the Aegean through the straits both from the Levantine and the Ionian Seas, as well as the more saline Cretan Intermediate Water (CIW) and the colder and denser Myrtoan Intermediate Water (MIW).
Myrtoan Intermediate Water (MIW) flows southwards and, being dense enough, sinks in the deep troughs of the western Cretan Sea, thus probably contributing to the formation of the new very dense Cretan Deep Water (CDW) .
Transition Mediterranean Water (TMW), an intermediate ‘minimum temperature and salinity’ layer also occurs, probably related to the Cretan Deep Water (CDW) outflow towards the deep and bottom layers of the eastern Mediterranean. TMW enters the south Aegean through the Cretan Arc Straits, follows two opposite paths and fills the entire Basin.
Cretan Deep Water (CDW) contributes to the formation of the new, warmer, saltier and denser Deep Water observed in the Eastern Mediterranean, that has been displacing the Eastern Mediterranean Deep Water (EMDW) of Adriatic origin, not only in the adjacent open sea regions outside the Aegean Sea, but also more distantly in the Ionian and Levantine Seas. Thus the Cretan Sea is the unique source of the new type of Eastern Mediterranean Deep Water.
Myrtoan Deep Water (MDW) is the densest water mass of the south Aegean, and is almost totally isolated in the deep and bottom layers of the Myrtoan Basin. Both Myrtoan Intermediate Water (MIW) and Myrtoan Deep Water (MDW) possibly have their origins in the neighbouring Cyclades Plateau.
See main article: Crete Mediterranean forests
The characterisation of a marine region such as the Sea of Crete is better understood by examining the terrestrial features of the adjacent land. The Crete Mediterranean forests are a cornerstone of the ecology of the island of Crete. This island ecoregion, found in the Mediterranean Sea and Sea of Crete, has been ravaged by human mismanagement, beginning in the Bronze Age. Timber harvesting and the conversion of forest into pastures have altered much of the original landscape of the island. Floral and faunal diversity for this relatively small ecoregion is high, containing three endemic mammal species, a shrew (Crocidura caneae), the spiny-mouse (Acomys minous), and a wild goat (Capra hircus cretensis). The island also supports a number of rare and endangered birds such as the Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus), golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), and Bonelli’s eagle (Hieraaetus fasciatus).
The Sea of Crete has been an important trading and settlement route at least as early as the third millennium BC, when there was known to be important sea contact between the advanced civilisations of Egypt and Minoan Crete. These contacts are documented in the archaeological record from excavations on Crete at Knossos, Phaistos and other Minoan sites. Since the Bronze Age, deforestation has taken a toll on Crete's forests. Hogan (2007) traces the prehistory of Knossos in southern Crete, which was one of the major imperial cities of the Minoan civilisation: an empire that reached great heights circa 2200 BC. The same civilisation that produced some of the earliest forms of complex writing conducted deforestation to such an extent that forest resources were already locally scarce in the Middle Minoan Period (circa 2000 BC). The progression of use of lumber products to more energy intenisve masonry suggests an early exploitation of forest products.
- C. Michael Hogan. 2007. Knossos Fieldnotes. The Modern Antiquarian. Julian Cope, Editor. www.themodernantiquarian.com.
- A. Theocharis, E. Balopoulos, S. Kioroglou, H. Kontoyiannis, and A. Iona. A synthesis of the circulation and hydrography of the South Aegean Sea and the Straits of the Cretan Arc (March 1994–January 1995). Progr. Oceanogr., 44:469–509, 1999.
- C. Millot. 2003. Circulation in the Mediterranean Sea and consequences on the water quality. The Smithsonian/NASA Astrophysics Data System.
- United Nations Environment Programme. Action Plan for Conservation of Marine Vegetation in the Mediterranean. Simpact Publishers, Tunisia.