The underwater landscape

In addition to the Gulf Stream there are other important natural features that affect settlement and economic activity along the coast. In the sea off the south and west of Norway beyond the deep but not very wide Norwegian Trench, there is a large, relatively shallow continental shelf with a number of even shallower fishing grounds. Along the coast west of Karmøy and Haugesund and from the mouth of Sognefjord right up to Varangerfjord there is also a reasonably wide stretch of shallow water (less than 200 metres deep) and a number of important and even shallower banks, some lying in this belt and some lying farther out to sea. This is significant because deeper waters are generally poorer in exploitable fish resources.

The topography of the seabed has also been important for the growth of the new Norwegian petroleum industry from the late 1960s, for in the first decades there were limits to how deep drilling could be carried out and installations positioned. The seabed’s topography and exploitation have also had great consequences for the extension of the national maritime boundaries that Norway experienced in the second half of the 20th century. Whereas the land borders of Norway have remained virtually unchanged since the 18th century, there has been a comprehensive expansion of maritime territory since the 1960s: from controlling a small belt of territorial waters, extending four nautical miles beyond the outermost coastline, to today’s "blue Norway" with a sea area five to six times greater than the country’s landmass.

The two most important contributors to this development were the divisioning of the continental shelf in accordance with the midline principle in 1965, which decided the rights to oil and gas resources under the seabed, and the establishing of a 200-mile economic zone in 1977 whereby large quantities of the fish resources that it contained came under Norwegian control.

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