The North Sea is a sea in northern Europe.
It is part of the Atlantic ocean.
An epeiric (or “shelf”) sea on the European continental shelf, it connects to the ocean through the English Channel in the south and the Norwegian Sea in the north.
It is more than 970 kilometers (600 miles) long and 580 kilometers (360 miles) wide.
The sea has a surface area of 570,000 square kilometers (220,000 square miles).
The water volume of the North Sea is about 54,000 cubic kilometers (13,000 cubic miles).
The maximum depth is 700 meters (2,300 feet) and average depth is 95 meters (312 feet) below the sea’s surface.
The main pattern to the flow of water in the North Sea is an anti-clockwise rotation along the edges.
The coast of the North Sea presents a diversity of geological and geographical features. In the north, deep fjords and sheer cliffs mark the Norwegian and Scottish coastlines, whereas in the south it consists primarily of sandy beaches and wide mudflats.
Around the edges of the North Sea are sizeable islands and archipelagos, including Shetland, Orkney, and the Frisian Islands.
The North Sea receives freshwater from a number of European continental watersheds, as well as the British Isles.
The name “North Sea” probably came into English via the Dutch “Noordzee”, who named it thus either in contrast with the Zuiderzee (“South Sea”), located south of Frisia, or simply because the sea is generally to the north of the Netherlands. Before the adoption of “North Sea,” the names used in English were “German Sea” or “German Ocean”, the latter referred to the Latin name “Oceanus Germanicus”, and they persisted even into the 1830s.
The development of European civilization has been greatly affected by maritime traffic on the North Sea. The Roman Empire and the Vikings both extended their contemporaneous territories across the sea. The Hanseatic League, the Netherlands, and the British Empire sought to dominate commerce both on the North Sea and through it.
As Germany’s only outlet to the ocean, the North Sea continued to be strategically important through both World Wars.
In recent decades, the Sea’s importance has largely shifted from military and geopolitical concerns to economics and environmental. Traditional activities, such as fishing and shipping, have continued to grow and natural resources such as fossil fuels and wind energy, have been discovered and developed there.
The North Sea is Europe’s main fishery accounting for over 5% of international commercial fish caught.
In the 1960s geologists found large areas of oil and natural gas under the North Sea. Most of the oil fields are owned by the United Kingdom and Norway but some belong to Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany.
Due to the strong prevailing winds, and shallow water, countries on the North Sea, particularly Germany and Denmark, have used the shore for wind power since the 1990s. The North Sea is the home of one of the first large-scale offshore wind farms in the world, Horns Rev 1 [photo below], completed in 2002. Since then many other wind farms have been commissioned in the North Sea (and elsewhere).
The North Sea is important for marine transport and its shipping lanes are among the busiest in the world.
Major ports are located along its coasts: Rotterdam, [photo below] the busiest port in Europe and the fourth busiest port in the world by tonnage as of 2013, Antwerp (was 16th) and Hamburg (was 27th), Bremen/Bremerhaven and Felixstowe, both in the top 30 busiest container seaports, as well as the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge, Europe’s leading RoRo port.
The beaches and coastal waters of the North Sea are destinations for tourists. The Belgian, Dutch, German and Danish coasts are developed for tourism. The North Sea coast of the United Kingdom has tourist destinations with beach resorts and golf courses.
Over 230 species of fish live in the North Sea. Cod, haddock, whiting, saithe, plaice, sole, mackerel, herring, pouting, sprat, and sandeel are all very common and are fished commercially.
The coasts of the North Sea are home to nature reserves including the Ythan Estuary, Fowlsheugh Nature Preserve, and Farne Islands in the UK and the Wadden Sea National Parks in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. These locations provide breeding habitat for dozens of bird species.
Due to the heavy human populations and high level of industrialization along its shores, the wildlife of the North Sea has suffered from pollution, overhunting, and overfishing.
Though rare, the North Sea has been the site of a number of historically documented tsunamis.
In 2006 a bone fragment was found while drilling for oil in the north sea. Analysis indicated that it was a Plateosaurus from 199 to 216 million years ago. This was the deepest dinosaur fossil ever found and the first find for Norway.