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This is called the shelf break.

Geographical Areas

The continental shelf is characterized by a very gentle slope less than 1 degree. The average depth is about m and it has an average width of 70 km. But local variations are common, ranging from more than km in the Arctic Ocean to a few kilometers along the Pacific coast of North and South America.

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The water above the continental shelf is called neritic water. Below the shelf break is the continental slope. This zone is much steeper than the continental shelf. At the base of this steep slope is the continental rise which finally merges into the deep ocean floor, the abyssal plain.


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The continental shelf, slope and rise are part of the continental margin. This is the transition zone between the continental and the oceanic crust. Generally it is one of the most productive parts of the ocean. Many benthic , coastal animals have evolved larval stages which swim for a time in the water.

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These larvae are also abundant in the neritic water. Although the continental shelf zones comprise only 7. This is one of the more productive ecosystems on the continental shelf. Energy for eroding and transporting sediment grains is provided by the tides and wind-generated waves and currents.


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In general, waves seem to be the dominant process affecting the sea bottom. Because the continental shelf is shallow, the waves have a large impact on the bottom in comparison to the open ocean. Water becomes increasingly calmer with depth, so the deeper you go, the more your bottom is unaffected by waves.

Breaking waves affect the shoreline and remove and suspend all the fine sediment into the water. Only medium and coarse sand and gravel can be deposited on the beach and in the nearshore zone. More seaward the bottom energy induced by waves decreases with depth. This causes a decreasing grain size with distance offshore.

Plankton on the Continental Shelf

Sedimentation under different depositional conditions in the past indicate the past sea level changes and are known as relict sediments. This shows the importance of sea level fluctuations for the sediment composition. The distribution of sediment types of the continental shelf show a regular pattern that vary with latitude and that depend on climate. At the equator, a broad band of biogenic sediment extends into the subtropics. New developments and recent additions. The oceans are the very foundation of human life Calendar of meetings.


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United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Agreement relating to the implementation of Part XI of the Convention. Meeting of States Parties to the Convention. Suspension of innocent passage. Reports of the Secretary-General.

continental shelf

General Assembly resolutions. Other General Assembly documents. The relation between primary production and coastal upwelling, caused by the divergence of coastal water by land or along-shore blowing winds, is clearly shown in ocean primary production maps. Therefore, good fishing grounds typically are found where upwelling is common. For example, the ecosystems supporting the rich fishing grounds along the west coasts of South America and Africa are maintained by year-round coastal upwelling. However, these systems are affected by changing oceanographic conditions and how they — and the dependent fisheries — will respond to sea temperature change as a consequence of climate change is highly uncertain.

These upwelling fishing grounds, especially in South America provide the raw materials for feeds used in intensive animal production and so any decreases in production will have effects on the price of farmed fish, chicken and port. The far largest share of all life in the oceans is in direct contact with or dwells just above the sea floor. However, they are also critically placed in relation to threats from land-based pollution, sea bed and habitat destruction from dredging and trawling, and climate change.

The rugged and varied topography of the seamounts, and their interaction with nutrient-rich currents, creates ideal conditions and numerous niches for marine life. Compared to the surrounding deep-sea plains and plateaus, they are some of the primary biodiversity hotspots in the oceans. Seamounts can be home to cold-water corals, sponge beds and even hydrothermal vents communities.

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They provide shelter, feeding, spawning and nursery grounds for thousands of species, including commercial fish and migratory species, such as whales Roberts and Hirschfield, ; Roberts et al. Separated from each other, seamounts act like marine oases, often with distinct species and communities. These unique features make seamounts a lucrative target for fisheries in search of new stocks of deep-water fish and shellfish, including crabs, cod, shrimp, snappers, sharks, Pacific cod, orange roughy, jacks, Patagonian toothfish, porgies, groupers, rockfish, Atka mackerel and sablefish. Our knowledge of seamounts and their fauna is still very limited, with only a tiny fraction of them sampled and virtually no data available for seamounts in large areas of the world such as the Indian Ocean Ingole and Koslow,