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Continental shelf

The continental shelf is an underwater landmass which extends from a continent, resulting in an area of relatively shallow water known as a shelf sea. Much of the shelves were exposed during glacial periods and interglacial periods.

The shelf surrounding an island is known as an insular shelf.

The continental margin, between the continental shelf and the abyssal plain, comprises a steep continental slope followed by the flatter continental rise. Sediment from the continent above cascades down the slope and accumulates as a pile of sediment at the base of the slope, called the continental rise. Extending as far as 500 km (310 mi) from the slope, it consists of thick sediments deposited by turbidity currents from the shelf and slope. The continental rise's gradient is intermediate between the slope and the shelf, on the order of 0.5–1°.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the name continental shelf was given a legal definition as the stretch of the seabed adjacent to the shores of a particular country to which it belongs.

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English

continental shelf

▪ Five more oilfields were producing oil from the North Sea continental shelf in 1976, including the massive Brent and Alpha fields.
▪ Most species of marine organism live on the continental shelf.
▪ The government has announced the opening of the first tender for exploration on its continental shelf.
▪ The shallow drilling programme is central to the systematic survey of the continental shelf.
▪ The southern component spreads over the continental shelf.
▪ The submarine extension of a continent is called the continental shelf.
▪ This basin, called the Chicxulub crater, formed on the continental shelf in shallow water.

continental shelf

n. (context nautical English) The area of sea around a land mass where the depth gradually increases before it plunges into the ocean deeps


continental shelf

n. the relatively shallow (up to 200 meters) seabed surrounding a continent