The sea which separates the British Isles from the coastal countries of Continental Europe; namely Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. The North Sea is linked to the Atlantic Ocean in the south by the narrow English Channel, but in the north, it is open to the cold North Atlantic. It is approximately 600 miles (960 km) long and 400 miles (640 km) wide, with an area of some 222,000 sq. miles (575,000 sq. km).
The sea separates Scotland from Norway, Sweden and Denmark in the east, although there are currently no direct ferry links to Europe. It has always been important for its fisheries, which previously supported substantial fleets in the east-coast Scottish ports, although these have now been significantly reduced by quotas and dwindling fish stocks.
The North Sea regained significant economic importance when oil and gas were discovered in the late 1960s. Since then, these have made a significant contribution to the British economy and North Sea crude oil has been used as an international pricing benchmark.
The North Sea was known as the German Ocean until the early 20th C., when hostilities with Germany meant this name became politically unacceptable in Britain.