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Continental shelf, a broad, fairly shallow submarine terrace of continent crust creating the sheet of a continent landmass. The geology of continent shelves is often comparable to that of the nearby exposed section of the continent, and also most shelves have actually a gently rolling topography referred to as ridge and swale. Continental shelves do up around 8 percent of the entire area covered by oceans.

Structure

A continental shelf commonly extends native the coastline to depth of 100–200 metres (330–660 feet). It is tenderness inclined seaward at an typical slope of about 0.1°. In virtually all instances, it end at its seaward edge v an abrupt drop called the shelf break. Below this lies the continental slope, a lot steeper region that usually merges through a ar of the s floor called the continental rise at a depth of approximately 4,000 to 5,000 metres (13,000 to 16,500 feet). A couple of continental margins—such as those off the Mediterranean coast of France and also at Porcupine Bank, off the western coastline of Ireland—do not have a sharply characterized break in slope however rather maintain a normally convex shape to the seafloor.


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The mean width of continental shelves is around 65 kilometres (40 miles). Almost everywhere the shelves represent merely a continuation of the continental landmass in ~ the ocean margins. Accordingly, they room narrow, rough, and steep turn off mountainous shores but large and comparatively level offshore indigenous plains. The shelf along the mountainous western shore of the unified States, for example, is narrow, measure up only around 32 km (20 miles) wide, whereas that fringing the eastern shore extends more than 120 km (75 miles) in width. Exceptionally broad shelves happen off northern Australia and Argentina. The world’s largest continental shelf extend 1,500 km (about 930 miles) native the coastline of Siberia into the Arctic Ocean.

Continental shelves space usually spanned with a layer of sand, silts, and also silty muds. Their surfaces exhibit part relief, featuring little hills and ridges that alternative with shallow depressions and valleylike troughs. In a couple of cases, steep-walled V-shaped submarine canyons reduced deeply into both the shelf and the slope below.


Origin

American oceanographer Donald J.P. Swift has referred to as continental shelves “palimpsests,” parchment writing tablet computers upon i beg your pardon stories room written after each previous writing has actually been erased. Each brand-new stand the sea level “writes” a new story of sedimentation on the shelf ~ the previous episode has actually been erased by the climb or fall that preceded it, but with some traces of the previous setting of deposition or last erosional event remaining. The “eraser” is the surf, a high-energy force that erodes and also reworks whatever as it overcome over, winnowing the end the finer-than-sand-sized sediment and also leaving the coarser product behind. An construed seismic line shows the complicated array of networks (eroded and then filled), old deltaic deposits, ancient erosional surfaces, and winnowed sand body that consist of the continent shelf southwest that Cape san Blas on the panhandle that Florida.

How the above processes influence any specific margin counts on the tectonic setup and the size of the rivers that drain into it. On continental shelves backed by high hill ranges, such together the Pacific shore of North and South America, the difference in between high and low sea-level stands may be daunting to detect, being one of level perhaps noticeable just by marginally raised sedimentation rates during lowstands, or intervals of diminished sea level. In numerous ways, continent shelves top top tectonically active margins at existing sea level approximate lowstands top top trailing-edge, or passive, margins.

When sea level is lower on a trailing-edge shelf that has no surrounding high mountains, such together the Atlantic coast of phibìc America, rivers are rejuvenated. In various other words, your base level is lowered and also they start to erode your beds, moving sediment native the continent across the former continental shelf the is currently exposed and also depositing it at the brand-new coast. As soon as sea level falls below the shelf break, the coastline lies ~ above the continental slope. As sea level rises again ~ above tectonically secure or sinking shelves, little and medium-sized flow mouths drown and estuaries form, trapping the sediment in ~ them and starving the shelves. In these cases, sediment because that the shelf is primarily created by erosion that the coastline as the surf zone developments landward with increasing sea level. Fine-grained product is winnowed out, to be one of two people deposited earlier in the estuaries or carried in actions by advective processes across the shelf to the depth water beyond. Together a result, continental shelf surface on trailing-edge margins into which no large rivers flow are veneered with a sand paper lying end a facility of older deposits, several of which peek v the surface ar as outcrops—vestiges that an previously story written on the palimpsest. Big rivers that drainpipe a large, high continent, such as the Mississippi, are able to store pace with increasing sea level and deliver sufficient sediment to store an estuary from forming, and, in ~ a high stillstand favor that that the present, also fill their entire shelf area. (For a summary of modern-day deposits of this type, see river: Deltas.)

For plenty of years after people War II, the period when numerous of the world’s continent shelves were first described in detail, it was assumed that the sand shop on continent shelves to be “relict,” deposits left stranded by a greater sea level native the higher-energy program of the surf zone the passed over them perhaps as much as a few thousand years before. Geophysical investigations of the shelf area since the mid-1970s have actually revealed the visibility of many species of sand waves and ripple point out in seafloor sediments that present submerged continent shelf sediments to it is in constantly undergoing reworking and also erosion. Together scientific knowledge of the physical processes that affect continental shelves increased, the was uncovered that currents set up by large winter storms, monsoons, and hurricanes and also typhoons are reworking the bottom by winnowing the end the fine-grained materials and also carrying them either ago into the estuaries or past the shelf break, where they are shed from the system.

In short, the type of sediment that covers the surface of a continental shelf is established by the interplay among the tectonic setting, the dimension of the rivers the empty right into it (size based upon how lot sediment castle carry), and also the wave energy that influence it, just as is the instance with continental margins in general. Shelves such together that of western Florida that have actually been reduced off native clastic entry (that is, sediments created chiefly that quartz and also clay minerals derived from erosion the the continent) might be spanned with lead carbonate sediments. In part cases, as in the archipelago of The Bahamas, the carbonate shelf, called a bank, is reduced off native a continental source by deep water. Continent shelves with rivers that bring sediments from the continent to the shelf and beyond just at lowstands that sea level and also those that drain mountainous locations on high-energy coasts are overcame by quartz sands. In addition, shelves through rivers that drain huge continental areas and also carry enough sediment to keep abreast that sea-level rise or overcome ambient wave-energy conditions will accumulate muddy sediment deposits out across their surfaces.

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Since the 1970s an increasing number of investigators have sought to define the beginning of continent shelves and their associated structures in regards to plate tectonics. According to this theory, the shelves that the Pacific Ocean, for example, developed as the leading edges of continental margins on lithospheric plates the terminate one of two people at fracture zones (sites where two such plates slide past each other) or at subduction zones (sites where one of the colliding bowl plunges into the underlying partly molten asthenosphere). Shelves of such beginning tend to be steep, deformed, and covered by a slim layer that erosional debris. The Atlantic continental shelves, top top the other hand, show tiny or no tectonic deformation and also bear a special veneer the sedimentary material. They space thought to it is in remnants of the rolling edges the the massive plates that break-up apart and receded numerous millions that years ago to type the Atlantic basin. As the edge of the plates slowly contracted and subsided, huge amounts that sand, silts, and also mud native the continents worked out and gathered along their seaward side.