The continent shelf is the extended perimeter of each continent that is spanned by reasonably shallow seas and also gulfs during interglacial periods (such as the current epoch). A sea that lies end a continental shelf is referred to as a shelf sea. Many of the sediment on continental shelves was deposited during the last ice cream age.

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Continental shelves room commercially exploited for the ores and fossil fuel that deserve to be extract from them, and also the waters above the shelves carry out a wealth of seafood.



The broad of the continent shelf varies considerably, v some locations having practically no shelf at all. The average width of continent shelves is about 80 kilometers (km) (50 mile (mi)). The depth of the shelf likewise varies, however it is generally restricted to water the is shallower 보다 150 meter (m) (490 feet (ft)).<1> The steep of the shelf is usually quite low, on the order of 0.5 degrees. Its upright relief is also minimal, at much less than 20 m (65 ft).<2>

The continent shelf commonly ends v an edge wherein the slope rises sharply, dubbed the shelf break. The sea floor listed below the break is dubbed the continental slope, i beg your pardon is also regarded as component of the continent. The continental slope forms a connection in between the continental shelf and also the oceanic crust.<3>

Below the continental slope is the continental rise, an additional sloping area that at some point merges into the deep ocean floor, the abyssal plain. The continental shelf and also slope are part of the continental margin.

The shelf area is commonly subdivided into the inner continent shelf, mid-continental shelf, and also outer continental shelf. Each of these parts has actually its certain geomorphology and marine biology.

The character of the shelf transforms dramatically at the shelf break, where the continental slope begins. Through a couple of exceptions, the shelf break is situated at a substantial uniform depth of roughly 140 meter (m) (460 feet (ft)). This attribute is likely a hallmark of past ice ages, once sea level was reduced than what it at this time is.<4>

The continental slope is much steeper 보다 the shelf; the median angle is three degrees, however it deserve to be as low together one degree or together high together ten degrees.<5> The slope is often reduced by submarine canyons, functions whose beginning was mysterious for plenty of years.<6>

The continental climb is below the slope, but landward of the abyssal plain. Its gradient is intermediate between the slope and also the shelf, ~ above the stimulate of 0.5-1 degrees.<1> expanding as much as 500 km from the slope, it is composed of thick sediments deposit by turbidity currents native the continental shelf and slope. Sediment cascades down the slope and accumulates together a heap of sediment in ~ the base of the slope, referred to as the continent rise.<7>

Although the continent shelf is treated as a physiographic province of the ocean, the is not part of the deep ocean basin appropriate but coincides to the flooded margins the the continent.<8> Passive continental margins, such as most of the Atlantic coasts, have large and shallow shelves, made of thick sedimentary wedges obtained from lengthy erosion the a surrounding continent. Active continental margins have actually narrow, fairly steep shelves, due to frequent earthquakes that relocate sediment to the deep sea.<9>


Some coasts are almost devoid of a continent shelf, specifically in areas where the forward edge the an advancing oceanic plate dives beneath the continent crust in an offshore subduction zone. Instances of this attribute have been discovered off the coast of Chile and the west shore of Sumatra. By contrast, the Siberian Shelf in the Arctic ocean is the largest shelf, stretching to a broad of 1500 kilometres (930 mi). The southern China Sea lies over another extensive area of continental shelf, the Sunda Shelf, which joins Borneo, Sumatra, and also Java to the asian mainland. Other acquainted bodies of water that overlie continental shelves space the north Sea and also Persian Gulf.


Continental shelves are covered through terrigenous sediments, that is, sediments acquired from erosion that the continents. However, only a minor part of the sediments deserve to be traced come material carried by contemporary rivers. About 60-70 percent the the sediment on the world"s continental shelves is relict sediment, deposited during the last ice age, once the sea level was 100-120 meters reduced than it right now is.<10>

Sediments usually become increasingly fine with distance from the coast. Sand is restricted to shallow, wave-agitated waters, while silt and clays room deposited in quieter, deep water, far offshore.<11> these shelf sediments accumulate at an median rate the 30 centimeters (cm) every 1,000 years, v a selection from 15-40 cm.<12> Though slow-moving by human standards, this price is much much faster than the for deep-sea pelagic sediments.

Teeming through life

Given that sunlight is easily accessible in shallow waters, continental shelves teem with life. Through comparison, the abyssal plains of the seas are biotic deserts. The pelagic (water column) environment of the continental shelf constitutes the neritic zone, and also the benthic (sea floor) province of the shelf is the sublittoral zone.<13>

The shelves room usually fertile, however if anoxic conditions in the sedimentary deposits prevail, the shelves may, end geologic time, end up being sources that fossil fuels.

Economic significance and also sovereignty

The fairly accessible continental shelf is the finest understood part of the s floor. Most of the commercial exploitation that the sea—such as the extraction of metallic ore, nonmetallic ore, and fossil fuel (oil and natural gas)—takes location in the an ar of the continental shelf. In addition, the waters above the shelf constitute a rich resource of seafood.

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Given this background, nations with open coasts have asserted sovereign rights over their continental shelves as much as 350 nautical mile from the coast. Come institute your claims, various maritime nations signed the Convention ~ above the continental Shelf drawn up by the U.N. Worldwide Law board of directors in 1958, which was partly superseded by the 1982 United countries Convention ~ above the law of the Sea.<14>