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Map showing the location of the Strait of Dover.

The Strait of Dover or Dover Strait ( , , literally , or ) is the strait at the narrowest part of the English Channelmarker. The shortest distance across the strait is from the South Forelandmarker, some 4 miles (6 kilometres) north east of Dovermarker in the county of Kentmarker, Englandmarker, to Cap Gris Nezmarker, a cape near to Calaismarker in the French of Pas-de-Calais, Francemarker. Between these two points lies the most popular route for cross-channel swimmers as the distance is reduced to 21 miles (34 kilometres).

On a clear day, it is possible to see the opposite coastline and shoreline buildings with the naked eye, and the lights of land at night, as in Matthew Arnold's poem "Dover Beach".

Shipping traffic

The white cliffs at Dover
Most maritime traffic between the Atlantic Oceanmarker and the Northmarker and Baltic Seasmarker passes through the Strait of Dover, rather than taking the longer and more dangerous route around the north of Scotlandmarker. The strait is the busiest international seaway in the world, used by over 400 commercial vessels daily. This has made safety a critical issue, with HM Coastguard maintaining a 24-hour watch over the strait and enforcing a strict regime of shipping lanes.

In addition to the intensive east-west traffic, the strait is criss-crossed from north to south by ferries. Until the 1990s these provided the only ground-based route across it. The Channel Tunnelmarker now provides an alternative route, crossing underneath the strait at an average depth of 150 feet (45 m) underneath the seabed.

Geological formation

NASA Satellite image December, 2002
The strait is believed to have been created through erosion. At one time there was land where the strait is now, a south-east extension of the Wealdmarker joining what is now Great Britainmarker to continental Europe. The eastern end of this old longer Weald is the Boulonnaismarker chalk area in the Pas de Calais. The predominant geology on both the British and French sides and on the sea floor between is chalk. Although somewhat resistant to erosion, such erosion of the chalk can be seen on both coasts as impressive sea cliffs, the famous white cliffs of Dovermarker, and Cap Blanc Nezmarker on the French side of the strait. This same rock provided an excellent tunnelling medium for the Channel Tunnelmarker.
NASA Terra Satellite image March, 2001
The Rhinemarker flowed northwards into the North Sea as the sea level fell during the start of the first of the Pleistocene Ice Ages. The ice created a dam from Scandinavia to Scotlandmarker, and the Rhine, combined with the Thames and drainage from much of north Europe, created a vast lake behind the dam, which eventually spilled over the Weald into the English Channelmarker. This overflow channel was gradually widened and deepened into the Strait of Dover. A narrow deeper channel along the middle of the strait was the bed of the Rhinemarker in the last Ice Age. In East Angliamarker there is a geological deposit that marks the old preglacial northward course of the Rhinemarker.

However, a new study by Gupta et al. (2007) suggests that the English Channel was formed by erosion caused by two major floods. The first was about 425,000 years ago, when an ice-dammed lake in the southern North Sea overflowed and broke the Weald-Artoismarker chalk range in a catastrophic erosion and flood event. Afterwards, the Thames and Scheldtmarker flowed through the gap into the English Channel, but the Meusemarker and Rhinemarker still flowed northwards. In a second flood about 225,000 years ago the Meuse and Rhine were ice-dammed into a lake that broke catastrophically through a high weak barrier (perhaps chalk, or an end-moraine left by the ice sheet). Both floods cut massive flood channels in the dry bed of the English Channelmarker, somewhat like the Channeled Scablandsmarker in the USA.

Unusual crossings

Many crossings other than in conventional vessels have been attempted, including by pedalo, bathtub, amphibious vehicle and more commonly by swimming. French law is stricter on such matters than British law, so most such crossings originate in England.

See also


  1. See The Channel Navigation Information Service (CNIS)
  2. .
  3. Europe cut adrift", by Philip Gibbard, pp 259-260, Nature, vol 448, 19 July 2007

External links

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