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Straits of Denmark and southwestern Baltic Sea

The Great Belt (Danish: Storebælt) is a strait between the main Danish islands of Zealand (Sjælland) and Funen (Fyn). Effectively dividing Denmark in two, the Belt was served by the Great Belt ferries from the late 19th century until the islands were connected by the Great Belt Fixed Link in 1997–98.



Satellite view over Denmark: The Great Belt is the passage in the center.

The Great Belt is the largest and most important of the three straits of Denmark that connect the Kattegat to the Baltic Sea. The others are the Oresund and the Little Belt.

The Great Belt is 60 kilometers long and 16–32 kilometers wide. It flows around two major islands: Samsø in the north and Langeland to the south. At Sprogø the Great Belt divides into the East Channel and the West Channel. Both are traversed by the Great Belt Bridge, but a tunnel also runs under the East Channel.


In pre-glacial times a river, which the Baltic Sea basin then contained, must have passed through the region. So also did the Eemian Sea, just prior to the last glaciation, which covered the entire region with ice thousands of metres (many more thousands of feet) thick. Today's topography is totally post-glacial. The Great Belt was eroded into existence by streams passing between the Baltic sea basin and the Kattegat. Currently it is a drowned channel.

It is possible to speak of northern and southern zones beneath the surface. The northern one consists of two v-shaped cuts more than 50 metres deep. The southern one has a relatively shallow bottom, 30 metres deep, showing the tops of riverine and lacustrine sediments. This configuration gives evidence that for most of its life the Great Belt hosted an outward, downhill flow.

The northern zone is located in the sea off the north coast of Zeeland. The southern zone is just south of Langeland, leading into the Kieler Bucht, or Bay of Kiel. The Fehmarn Belt then connects the Kieler Bucht to the Lübecker Bucht, or Bay of Lübeck, to the south of Lolland. The Bay of Lübeck is open to the Baltic sea.

The current channel of the Great Belt was created by a relatively high fresh water phase of the rising Yoldia Sea breaking through to the lower Kattegat levels at about 10,000 BP. At that time the exposed northern zone was a valley less than 1 kilometer wide.

The Yoldia sea continued to drain and levels in the Kattegat continued to rise. By 9500 BC the outward flow stopped and the sea proper began to penetrate the enlarged Great Belt, turning it brackish very slowly. During the Ancylus Lake phase, 9500-8000 BP, the Great Belt was an extension of the Kattegat. At the end of that time rising Kattegat levels broke into the Ancylus lake, creating the Littorina Sea.


The Great Belt is home to some popular fish: flatfish, sea trout, cod, mackerel and garfish, which are fished avidly for sport and for sale.

International waterway

The Great Belt was historically navigable to ocean-going vessels and, despite a few collisions and near collisions with the bridge, it still is. The Danish navy finds it necessary to keep a watchful eye on ships passing through.

Since the reign of king Eric of Pomerania, the Danish government had received a large part of its income by levying the so-called Sound Dues toll from international merchant ships passing through the Øresund under threat of being sunk. Non-Danish vessels were forbidden to use any other waterways but the Øresund. Transgressing vessels were confiscated or sunk.

During the middle of the 19th century, this practice became a diplomatic liability and the Danish government agreed to terminate it, achieving an international financial compensation in return. Danish waterways were consequently opened to foreign shipping. The eastern half of the Great Belt is an international waterway, legally based on the 1857 Copenhagen Convention.[1] The western half of the Great Belt (between Funen and Sprogø) and all other parts of the Danish Straits are Danish territorial waters and subject to Danish jurisdiction.

See also


  1. ^ "Maritime Law". UNESCO. Retrieved 2009-06-16.  

Coordinates: 55°19′59″N 11°00′00″E / 55.333°N 11.000°E / 55.333; 11.000



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