• A strait is a narrow body of water that connects two larger bodies of water.

    It may be formed by a fracture in an isthmus, a narrow body of land that connects two bodies of water. Tectonic shifts can lead to straits like this. One strait that was formed by tectonic activity is the Strait of Gibraltar, the only link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The Strait of Gibraltar is actually closing, as the African tectonic plate slides north. In a few thousand years, the Strait of Gibraltar will be the Isthmus of Gibraltar, and the Mediterranean will be a large, salty, inland sea.

    If fractures in an isthmus are created by human activity, the straits are usually called canals. The Suez Canal was constructed in 1869 as a waterway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. The Suez Canal allows transportation between Europe and Asia without having to go around the entire continent of Africa. It is an important economic strait.

    A strait can also be formed by a body of water overflowing land that has subsided or has been eroded. The Bosporus, which links the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea, was formed this way. Land at the southwestern edge of the Black Sea eroded and crumbled, creating a strait. Although scientists know that the Black Sea was once an enclosed lake, they do not know for sure whether the Black Sea flooded into the Aegean, or the Aegean flooded into the Black Sea. The Bosporus is an extremely important strait, separating the continents of Europe and Asia. Besides two entire continents, the Bosporus also separates a single country. It splits the European part of Turkey, called Thrace, and the Asian part, called Anatolia.

    Strategic Straits

    Historically, straits have had great strategic importance. Whoever controls a strait is likely to control the sea and shipping routes of the entire region.

    The Strait of Hormuz connects the Persian Gulf and a part of the Arabian Sea called the Gulf of Oman. Great quantities of petroleum from Middle Eastern states are shipped through the Strait of Hormuz.

    The strait is jointly controlled by Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran. These countries, which all export oil, are rarely in dispute with each other. They all have military centers in the region. Countries that import oil from the region also patrol the Strait of Hormuz. Sometimes, these military patrols can lead to conflict. In 2008, the United States accused Iran of harassing U.S. warships with small speedboats. Iran denied the allegations. The two countries were close to conflict for months before the dispute was settled without violence.

    Their narrow passages can make some straits difficult to navigate. The Strait of Magellan is a very thin waterway between the southern tip of South America and the group of islands known as Tierra del Fuego. The strait links the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The stormy waters south of Tierra del Fuego (close to Antarctica) made the Strait of Magellan, to the north, more attractive to mariners. Although the landmasses protect the strait from harsh Antarctic weather, the Strait of Magellan is still difficult to navigate. It is narrow and the islands of Tierra del Fuego can lead to confusion in stormy weather. The temperatures can reach freezing. Strong wind and waves make visibility and steering complex.

    Whaling ships of the 19th century, sailing from the East Coast of the United States to the whaling grounds of the South Pacific, would sometimes stay for weeks around the Strait of Magellan, waiting for calm, clear days for passage.

    The Strait of Messina, separating Sicily from the Italian mainland, is so narrow that the Italian government has considered building a bridge across it.

    Taiwan Strait War?
    China and Taiwan have not gone to war over the Taiwan Strait, but many political scientists fear they might. The Taiwan Strait separates mainland China from the island of Taiwan. Taiwan is an important trading partner of the United States and other western nations. Any conflict with China may threaten U.S. economic and political interests.

    There have been three Taiwan Strait Crises. The last, in 1995-1996, involved the U.S. allowing the president of Taiwan to speak in the U.S. He expressed his hope for an independent Taiwan, angering Chinese officials.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    Anatolia Noun

    part of the country of Turkey located in Asia.

    canal Noun

    artificial waterway.

    complex Adjective


    conflict Noun

    a disagreement or fight, usually over ideas or procedures.

    continent Noun

    one of the seven main land masses on Earth.

    Encyclopedic Entry: continent
    country Noun

    geographic territory with a distinct name, flag, population, boundaries, and government.

    dispute Noun

    debate or argument.

    economic Adjective

    having to do with money.

    erode Verb

    to wear away.

    export Verb

    to transport goods to another place for trade.

    fracture Verb

    to break.

    harsh Adjective


    import Verb

    to bring in a good or service from another area for trade.

    inland Adjective

    area not near the ocean.

    island Noun

    body of land surrounded by water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: island
    isthmus Noun

    narrow strip of land connecting two larger land masses.

    Encyclopedic Entry: isthmus
    lake Noun

    body of water surrounded by land.

    Encyclopedic Entry: lake
    landmass Noun

    large area of land.

    mariner Noun


    Middle East Noun

    region of southwest Asia and northeast Africa.

    military Noun

    armed forces.

    navigate Verb

    to plan and direct the course of a journey.

    oil Noun

    fossil fuel formed from the remains of marine plants and animals. Also known as petroleum or crude oil.

    patrol Verb

    to survey and monitor an area by passing through it.

    petroleum Noun

    fossil fuel formed from the remains of ancient organisms. Also called crude oil.

    region Noun

    any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

    Encyclopedic Entry: region
    sea Noun

    large part of the ocean enclosed or partly enclosed by land.

    Encyclopedic Entry: sea
    shipping route Noun

    path in a body of water used for trade.

    steer Verb

    to guide or direct.

    strait Noun

    narrow passage of water that connects two larger bodies of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: strait
    strategic Adjective

    important part of a place or plan.

    subside Verb

    to return to a lower level.

    tectonic activity Noun

    movement of tectonic plates resulting in geologic activity such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

    tectonic plate Noun

    massive slab of solid rock made up of Earth's lithosphere (crust and upper mantle). Also called lithospheric plate.

    temperature Noun

    degree of hotness or coldness measured by a thermometer with a numerical scale.

    Encyclopedic Entry: temperature
    Thrace Noun

    part of the country of Turkey located in Europe.

    Tierra del Fuego Noun

    group of islands at the southern tip of South America.

    transportation Noun

    movement of people or goods from one place to another.

    visibility Noun

    the ability to see or be seen with the unaided eye. Also called visual range.

    waterway Noun

    body of water that serves as a route for transportation.

    wave Noun

    moving swell on the surface of water.

    weather Noun

    state of the atmosphere, including temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, humidity, precipitation, and cloudiness.

    Encyclopedic Entry: weather
    whaling Noun

    industry of hunting whales.

    wind Noun

    movement of air (from a high pressure zone to a low pressure zone) caused by the uneven heating of the Earth by the sun.