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Continental shelf
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Continental shelf

The continental shelf is an area of relatively shallow sea water that is found on the edge of each continent. The shelf typically ends at a very steep slope (called the shelf break). The sea bottom below the break is the continental slope which has a much steeper gradient than the shelf. It merges into the ocean floor.

The width of the continental shelf varies significantly. It is quite common for an area to have virtually no shelf at all. The largest shelf - the Siberian shelf in the Arctic Ocean - stretches to 1500 kilometers in width. The average width is about 80 kilometers. The depth of the shelf also varies. It may be as shallow as 30 meters or as deep as 600.

The continental shelf is by far the best understood part of the oceans on account of its relative accessibility. Virtually all commercial exploitation, such as oil and gas extraction, from the sea takes place on the continental shelf.

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