Strait of Dover

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The Strait of Dover or Dover Strait (French: Pas de Calais [pɑdə kalɛ], literally Strait of Calais, Dutch: Nauw van Calais) is the strait at the narrowest part of the English Channel. The shortest distance across the strait is from the South Foreland, some 4 miles (6 kilometres) north east of Dover in the county of Kent, England, to Cap Gris Nez, a cape near to Calais in the French département of Pas-de-Calais, France. Between these two points lies the most popular route for cross-channel swimmers as the distance is reduced to 34 km (21 mi).[1]

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

Most maritime traffic between the Atlantic Ocean and the North and Baltic Seas passes through the Strait of Dover, rather than taking the longer and more dangerous route around the north of Scotland. 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.[2]

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

The town of Dover gives its name to one of the sea areas of the British Shipping Forecast.

Geological formation

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 Weald joining what is now Great Britain to continental Europe. The eastern end of this old longer Weald is the Boulonnais 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 Dover, and Cap Blanc Nez on the French side of the strait. This same rock provided an excellent tunnelling medium for the Channel Tunnel.

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