North Sea

For other uses, see North Sea (disambiguation).
North Sea
NASA NorthSea1 2.jpg
Location Atlantic Ocean
Coordinates 56°N 03°E / 56°N 03°E / North Sea)
Type Sea
Primary inflows Baltic Sea, Elbe, Weser, Ems, Rhine/ Waal, Meuse, Scheldt, Spey, Don, Dee, Tay, Forth, Tyne, Tees, Humber, Thames
Basin countries Norway, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and the United Kingdom
Max. length 960 km (600 mi)
Max. width 580 km (360 mi)
Surface area 570,000 km2 (220,000 sq mi)
Average depth 95 m (312 ft)
Max. depth 700 m (2,300 ft)
Water volume 54,000 km3 (4.4×1010 acre·ft)
Salinity 3.4 to 3.5%
Max. temperature 17 °C (63 °F)
Min. temperature 6 °C (43 °F)
References Safety at Sea and Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences

The North Sea is a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean located between Great Britain, Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. 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 kilometres (600 mi) long and 580 kilometres (360 mi) wide, with an area of around 570,000 square kilometres (220,000 sq mi).

The North Sea has long been the site of important European shipping lanes as well as a major fishery. The sea is a popular destination for recreation and tourism in bordering countries and more recently has developed into a rich source of energy resources including fossil fuels, wind, and early efforts in wave power.

Historically, the North Sea has featured prominently in geopolitical and military affairs, particularly in Northern Europe but also globally through the power northern Europeans projected worldwide during much of the Middle Ages and into the modern era. The North Sea was the centre of the Vikings' rise. Subsequently, the Hanseatic League, the Netherlands, and the British each sought to dominate the North Sea and thus the access to the markets and resources of the world. As Germany's only outlet to the ocean, the North Sea continued to be strategically important through both World Wars.

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. Due to the dense population, heavy industrialization, and intense use of the sea and area surrounding it, there have been a number of environmental issues affecting the sea's ecosystems. Environmental concerns — commonly including overfishing, industrial and agricultural runoff, dredging, and dumping among others — have led to a number of efforts to prevent degradation of the sea while still making use of its economic potential.


Sk= Skagerrak   Ka= Kattegat
Eng Ch= English Channel

The North Sea is bounded by the Orkney Islands and east coast of Great Britain to the west [1] and the northern and central European mainland to the east and south, including Norway, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. [2] In the southwest, beyond the Straits of Dover, the North Sea becomes the English Channel connecting to the Atlantic Ocean. [1] [2] In the east, it connects to the Baltic Sea via the Skagerrak and Kattegat, [2] narrow straits that separate Denmark from Norway and Sweden respectively. [1] In the north it is bordered by the Shetland Islands, and connects with the Norwegian Sea, which lies in the very north-eastern part of the Atlantic. [1] [3]

The North Sea is more than 970 kilometres (600 mi) long and 580 kilometres (360 mi) wide, with an area of 570,000 square kilometres (220,000 sq mi) and a volume of 54,000 cubic kilometres (13,000 cu mi). [4] Around the edges of the North Sea are sizeable islands and archipelagos, including Shetland, Orkney, and the Frisian Islands. [2] The North Sea receives freshwater from a number of European continental watersheds, as well as the British Isles. A large part of the European drainage basin empties into the North Sea including water from the Baltic Sea. The largest and most important rivers flowing into the North Sea are the Elbe and the RhineMeuse watershed. [5] Around 185 million people live in the catchment area of the rivers discharging into the North Sea encompassing some highly industrialized areas. [6]

Major features

For the most part, the sea lies on the European continental shelf with a mean depth of 90 metres (300 ft). [1] [7] The only exception is the Norwegian trench, which extends parallel to the Norwegian shoreline from Oslo to an area north of Bergen. [1] It is between 20 and 30 kilometres (12 and 19 mi) wide and has a maximum depth of 725 metres (2,379 ft). [8]

The Dogger Bank, a vast moraine, or accumulation of unconsolidated glacial debris, rises to a mere 15 to 30 metres (50–100 ft) below the surface. [9] [10] This feature has produced the finest fishing location of the North Sea. [1] The Long Forties and the Broad Fourteens are large areas with roughly uniform depth in fathoms, (forty fathoms and fourteen fathoms or 73 and 26 m deep respectively). These great banks and others make the North Sea particularly hazardous to navigate, [11] which has been alleviated by the implementation of satellite navigation systems. [12] The Devil's Hole lies 200 miles (320 km) east of Dundee, Scotland. The feature is a series of asymmetrical trenches between 20 and 30 kilometres (12 and 19 mi) long, 1 and 2 kilometres (0.62 and 1.24 mi) wide and up to 230 metres (750 ft) deep. [13]

Other areas which are less deep are Cleaver Bank, Fisher Bank and Noordhinder Bank.


The International Hydrographic Organization defines the limits of the North Sea as follows: [14]

On the Southwest. A line joining the Walde Lighthouse (France, 1°55'E) and Leathercoat Point (England, 51°10'N). [15]

On the Northwest. From Dunnet Head (3°22'W) in Scotland to Tor Ness (58°47'N) in the Island of Hoy, thence through this island to the Kame of Hoy (58°55'N) on to Breck Ness on Mainland (58°58'N) through this island to Costa Head (3°14'W) and to Inga Ness (59'17'N) in Westray through Westray, to Bow Head, across to Mull Head (North point of Papa Westray) and on to Seal Skerry (North point of North Ronaldsay) and thence to Horse Island (South point of the Shetland Islands).

On the North. From the North point (Fethaland Point) of the Mainland of the Shetland Islands, across to Graveland Ness (60°39'N) in the Island of Yell, through Yell to Gloup Ness (1°04'W) and across to Spoo Ness (60°45'N) in Unst island, through Unst to Herma Ness (60°51'N), on to the SW point of the Rumblings and to Muckle Flugga (60°51′N 0°53′W / 60°51′N 0°53′W / 60.850; -0.883) all these being included in the North Sea area; thence up the meridian of 0°53' West to the parallel of 61°00' North and eastward along this parallel to the coast of Norway, the whole of Viking Bank being thus included in the North Sea.

On the East. The Western limit of the Skagerrak [A line joining Hanstholm (57°07′N 8°36′E / 57°07′N 8°36′E / 57.117; 8.600) and the Naze ( Lindesnes, 58°N 7°E / 58°N 7°E / 58; 7)].


Temperature and salinity

The average temperature in summer is 17 °C (63 °F) and 6 °C (43 °F) in the winter. [4] The average temperatures have been trending higher since 1988, which has been attributed to climate change. [16] [17] Air temperatures in January range on average between 0 to 4 °C (32 to 39 °F) and in July between 13 to 18 °C (55 to 64 °F). The winter months see frequent gales and storms. [1]

The salinity averages between 34 to 35 grams of salt per litre of water. [4] The salinity has the highest variability where there is fresh water inflow, such as at the Rhine and Elbe estuaries, the Baltic Sea exit and along the coast of Norway. [18]

Water circulation and tides

The main pattern to the flow of water in the North Sea is an anti-clockwise rotation along the edges. [19]

The North Sea is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean receiving the majority of ocean current from the northwest opening, and a lesser portion of warm current from the smaller opening at the English Channel. These tidal currents leave along the Norwegian coast. [20] Surface and deep water currents may move in different directions. Low salinity surface coastal waters move offshore, and deeper, denser high salinity waters move in shore. [21]

The North Sea located on the continental shelf has different waves from those in deep ocean water. The wave speeds are diminished and the wave amplitudes are increased. In the North Sea there are two amphidromic systems and a third incomplete amphidromic system. [22] [23] In the North Sea the average tide difference in wave amplitude is between 0 to 8 metres (0 to 26 ft). [4]

Ocean currents mainly entering via the north entrance exiting along Norwegian coast

The Kelvin tide of the Atlantic ocean is a semidiurnal wave that travels northward. Some of the energy from this wave travels through the English Channel into the North Sea. The wave still travels northward in the Atlantic Ocean, and once past the northern tip of Great Britain, the Kelvin wave turns east and south and once again enters into the North Sea. [24]

Selected tide ranges
• Localization of the tide-gauges listed
Tide times after Bergen (negative = before)
• The three amphidromic centers
• Coasts:
  marshes = green
  mudflats = greenish blue
  lagoons = bright blue
  dunes = yellow
  sea dikes= purple
  moraines near the coast= light brown
  rock-based coasts = grayish brown
Tidal range [ m]
(from calendars)
Maximal tidal
range [m]
Tide-gauge Geographical and historical features
0.79–1.82 2.39 Lerwick [25] Shetland Islands
2.01–3.76 4.69 Aberdeen [26] Mouth of River Dee in Scotland
2.38–4.61 5.65 North Shields [27] Mouth of Tyne estuary
2.31–6.04 8.20 Kingston upon Hull [28] northern side of Humber estuary
1.75–4.33 7.14 Grimsby [29] southern side of Humber estuary farther seaward
1.98–6.84 6.90 Skegness [30] Lincolnshire coast north of the Wash
1.92–6.47 7.26 King's Lynn [31] mouth of Great Ouse into the Wash
2.54–7.23 Hunstanton [32] eastern edge of the Wash
2.34–3.70 4.47 Harwich [33] East Anglian coast north of Thames Estuary
4.05–6.62 7.99 London Bridge [34] inner end of Thames Estuary
2.38–6.85 6.92 Dunkirk [35] dune coast east of the Strait of Dover
2.02–5.53 5.59 Zeebrugge [36] dune coast west of Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta
3.24–4.96 6.09 Antwerp [37] inner end of the southernmost estuary of Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta
1.48–1.90 2.35 Rotterdam [38] borderline of estuary delta [39] and sedimentation delta of the Rhine
1.10–2.03 2.52 Katwijk [40] mouth of the Uitwateringskanaal of Oude Rijn into the sea
1.15–1.72 2.15 Den Helder [41] northeastern end of Holland dune coast west of IJsselmeer
1.67–2.20 2.65 Harlingen [42] east of IJsselmeer, outlet of IJssel river, the eastern branch of the Rhine
1.80–2.69 3.54 Borkum [43] island in front of Ems river estuary
2.96–3.71 Emden [44] east side of Ems river estuary
2.60–3.76 4.90 Wilhelmshaven [45] Jade Bight
2.66–4.01 4.74 Bremerhaven [46] seaward end of Weser estuary
3.59–4.62 Bremen- Oslebshausen [47] Bremer Industriehäfen, inner Weser estuary
3.3–4.0 Bremen Weser barrage [48] artificial tide limit of river Weser, 4 km upstream of the city centre
2.6–4.0 Bremerhaven 1879 [49] before onset of Weser Correction (Weser straightening works)
0–0.3 Bremen city centre 1879 [49] before onset of Weser Correction (Weser straightening works)
1.45 Bremen city centre 1900 [50] Große Weserbrücke, 5 years after completion of Weser Correction works
2.54–3.48 4.63 Cuxhaven [51] seaward end of Elbe estuary
3.4–3.9 4.63 Hamburg St. Pauli [52] [53] St. Pauli Piers, inner part of Elbe estuary
1.39–2.03 2.74 Westerland [54] Sylt island in front of Nordfriesland coast
2.8–3.4 Dagebüll [55] coast of Wadden Sea in Nordfriesland
1.1–2.1 2.17 Esbjerg [56] [57] northern end of Wadden Sea in Denmark
0.5–1.1 Hvide Sande [56] Danish dune coast, entrance of Ringkøbing Fjord lagoon
0.3–0.5 Thyborøn [56] Danish dune coast, entrance of Nissum Bredning lagoon, part of Limfjord
0.2–04 Hirtshals [56] Skagerrak. Hanstholm and Skagen have the same values.
0.14–0.30 0.26 Tregde [58] Skagerrak, Southern end of Norway, east of an amphidromic point
0.25–0.60 0.65 Stavanger [58] North of that amphidromic point, rhythm of the tides irregular
0.64–1.20 1.61 Bergen [58] Rhythm of the tides regular


The German North Sea coast

The eastern and western coasts of the North Sea are jagged, formed by glaciers during the ice ages. The coastlines along the southernmost part are covered with the remains of deposited glacial sediment. [1] The Norwegian mountains plunge into the sea creating deep fjords and archipelagos. South of Stavanger, the coast softens, the islands become fewer. [1] The eastern Scottish coast is similar, though less severe than Norway. From north east of England, the cliffs become lower and are composed of less resistant moraine, which erodes more easily, so that the coasts have more rounded contours. [59] [60] In the Netherlands, Belgium and in East Anglia the littoral is low and marshy. [1] The east coast and south-east of the North Sea ( Wadden Sea) have coastlines that are mainly sandy and straight owing to longshore drift, particularly along Belgium and Denmark. [61]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Noordsee
Alemannisch: Nordsee
አማርኛ: ስሜን ባሕር
Ænglisc: Norþsǣ
العربية: بحر الشمال
aragonés: Mar d'o Norte
অসমীয়া: উত্তৰ সাগৰ
asturianu: Mar del Norte
azərbaycanca: Şimal dənizi
تۆرکجه: قوزئی دنیزی
Bân-lâm-gú: Pak-hái
башҡортса: Төньяҡ диңгеҙ
беларуская: Паўночнае мора
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Паўночнае мора
भोजपुरी: नॉर्थ सागर
български: Северно море
Boarisch: Noadsee
bosanski: Sjeverno more
brezhoneg: Mor an Hanternoz
català: Mar del Nord
čeština: Severní moře
dansk: Nordsøen
Deutsch: Nordsee
dolnoserbski: Pódpołnocne mórjo
eesti: Põhjameri
Ελληνικά: Βόρεια Θάλασσα
español: Mar del Norte
Esperanto: Norda Maro
euskara: Ipar itsasoa
Fiji Hindi: North Sea
føroyskt: Norðsjógvurin
français: Mer du Nord
Frysk: Noardsee
Gàidhlig: An Cuan a Tuath
galego: Mar do Norte
客家語/Hak-kâ-ngî: Pet-hói
한국어: 북해
hornjoserbsce: Sewjerne morjo
hrvatski: Sjeverno more
Bahasa Indonesia: Laut Utara
interlingua: Mar del Nord
íslenska: Norðursjór
italiano: Mare del Nord
Basa Jawa: Segara Lor
kaszëbsczi: Nordowé Mòrzé
kernowek: Mor Kledh
latviešu: Ziemeļjūra
Lëtzebuergesch: Nordmier
lietuvių: Šiaurės jūra
Ligure: Mâ do Nord
Limburgs: Noordzie
Livvinkarjala: Pohjanmeri
la .lojban.: berti xamsi
македонски: Северно Море
മലയാളം: വടക്കൻ കടൽ
მარგალური: ოორუეშ ზუღა
مازِرونی: شمال دریا
Bahasa Melayu: Laut Utara
Mirandés: Mar de l Norte
монгол: Хойд тэнгис
မြန်မာဘာသာ: မြောက်ပင်လယ်
Nederlands: Noordzee
Nedersaksies: Noordzee
नेपाल भाषा: उत्तर सागर
日本語: 北海
Nordfriisk: Weestsiie
norsk bokmål: Nordsjøen
norsk nynorsk: Nordsjøen
occitan: Mar del Nòrd
олык марий: Йӱдвел теҥыз
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Shimoliy dengiz
پنجابی: اتری سمندر
Picard: Mèr Nord
Piemontèis: Mar dël Nòrd
Plattdüütsch: Noordsee
português: Mar do Norte
Ripoarisch: Nordsee
română: Marea Nordului
русиньскый: Северне море
саха тыла: Хотугу муора
Seeltersk: Noudsee
sicilianu: Mari dû nord
Simple English: North Sea
slovenčina: Severné more
slovenščina: Severno morje
کوردیی ناوەندی: دەریای باکوور
српски / srpski: Северно море
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Sjeverno more
Basa Sunda: Laut Kalér
suomi: Pohjanmeri
svenska: Nordsjön
Tagalog: Dagat Hilaga
தமிழ்: வடகடல்
tarandíne: Mare d'u Nord
татарча/tatarça: Төньяк диңгез
Türkçe: Kuzey Denizi
Türkmençe: Demirgazyk deňzi
українська: Північне море
vèneto: Mar del Nord
vepsän kel’: Pohjoižmeri
Tiếng Việt: Biển Bắc
Võro: Põh'ameri
West-Vlams: Nôordzêe
吴语: 北海
ייִדיש: צפון ים
粵語: 北海
Zeêuws: Noôrdzeê
žemaitėška: Šiaurės jūra