Persian Gulf

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Related to Persian Gulf: Persian Gulf War, Persian Empire, Arabian Gulf

Persian Gulf

Persian Gulf, arm of the Arabian Sea, 90,000 sq mi (233,100 sq km), between the Arabian peninsula and Iran, extending c.600 mi (970 km) from the Shatt al Arab delta to the Strait of Hormuz, which links it with the Gulf of Oman. It is called the Arabian Gulf in the Arab world.

Physical Geography

The Persian Gulf is mostly shallow and has many islands, of which Bahrain is the largest. The gulf is bordered by Oman and the United Arab Emirates to the south, to the west by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, to the north by Kuwait and Iraq, and along the entire east coast by Iran. It was generally thought that the gulf had previously extended farther north and that sediment dropped by the Tigris, Euphrates, Karun, and Karkheh rivers filled the northern part of the gulf to create a great delta. But geologic investigations now indicate that the coastline has not moved and that the marshlands of the delta represent a sinking of the earth's crust as the Arabian land block pushes under Iran. The gulf waters have very slow currents and limited tidal range.


The Persian Gulf was an important transportation route in antiquity but declined with the fall of Mesopotamia. In succeeding centuries control of the region was contested by Arabs, Persians, Turks, and Western Europeans. In 1853, Britain and the Arab sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf signed the Perpetual Maritime Truce, formalizing the temporary truces of 1820 and 1835. The sheikhs agreed to stop harassing British shipping in the Arabian Sea and to recognize Britain as the dominant power in the gulf. These sheikhdoms thus became known as the Trucial States. An international agreement among the major powers in 1907 placed the gulf in the British sphere of influence.

Although oil was discovered in the gulf in 1908, it was not until the 1930s, when major finds were made, that keen international interest in the region revived. Since World War II the gulf oil fields, among the most productive in the world, have been extensively developed, and modern port facilities have been constructed. Nearly 50% of the world's total oil reserves are estimated to be found in the Persian Gulf. It is also a large fishing source and was once the chief center of the pearling industry. In the late 1960s, following British military withdrawal from the area, the United States and the USSR sought to fill the vacuum. In 1971 the first U.S. military installation in the gulf was established at Bahrain.

The long-standing Arab–Persian conflict in the gulf, combined with the desire of neighboring states for control of large oil reserves, has led to international boundary disputes. Iraq and Iran argued over navigation rights on the Shatt al Arab, through which Iran's main ports and most productive oil fields are reached. Iran and the sheikhdoms of Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah contested ownership of the oil-rich islands of Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunb at the entrance to the gulf. Iranian forces occupied these islands in Dec., 1971, infuriating Iraq. The much-contested rights over the Shatt al Arab led Iran and Iraq into an 8-year war in the 1980s (see Iran-Iraq War). In 1984 American and other foreign oil tankers in the gulf were attacked by both Iran and Iraq. The security of Persian Gulf countries was threatened throughout this war.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in Aug., 1990, the Persian Gulf was once again a background for conflict. International coalition ground forces were stationed in Saudi Arabia and neighboring gulf countries in the Persian Gulf War (1991). Before Iraq was expelled from Kuwait in Feb., 1991, Iraqi soldiers set fire to over 500 Kuwaiti oil wells and dumped millions of barrels of oil into the Persian Gulf, causing an environmental crisis and threatening desalination plants throughout the area. The area again was the scene of warfare in 2003 when U.S. and British forces invaded Iraq. The Persian Gulf's vast oil reserves make the area a continuing source of international tension.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Persian Gulf


a gulf northwest of the Indian Ocean, lying between the Arabian Peninsula and Iran. The Persian Gulf is joined in the east to the Arabian Sea by the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman. Extending 926 km inland, the gulf has an area of 239,000 sq km and a width of 180 to 320 km. Depths less than 50 m predominate; the maximum depth is 102 m. There are many small islands along the coasts and many coral reefs in the southern part. Bahrain and Qeshm are the most important islands. The Shatt al-Arab flows into the gulf.

The Persian Gulf’s hydrological profile makes it a continental sea. The water temperature is 30°-33°C in August and 15°-21°C in February. Salinity is as high as 40‰; near the estuary of the Shatt al-Arab it is 30‰ The currents flow counterclockwise. There is fishing and pearl diving in the gulf.

Vast oil deposits are located beneath the gulf and in the surrounding regions. The principal ports are al-Faw and al-Basra (Iraq, on the Shatt al-Arab); Abadan (on the Shatt al-Arab), Bendare-Shahpur, Bendare-Mah Shahr, and Khark (Iran); al-Kuwait (Kuwait); Ra’s at Tannurah (Saudi Arabia); Manamah (Bahrain); Musay’id (Qatar), and Abdu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates).

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Persian Gulf

a shallow arm of the Arabian Sea between SW Iran and Arabia: linked with the Arabian Sea by the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman; important for the oilfields on its shores. Area: 233 000 sq. km (90 000 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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