continental shelf


: a shallow submarine plain of varying width forming a border to a continent and typically ending in a comparatively steep slope to the deep ocean floor

Illustration of continental shelf

Illustration of continental shelf
  • 1 seashore
  • 2 continental shelf
  • 3 continental slope
  • 4 abyssal plain
  • 5 seamount

Examples of continental shelf in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The cruise covered an area more than 600 miles long and crisscrossed waters above the 125-mile wide continental shelf, documenting widespread ocean heating. Beth Mole, Ars Technica, 14 Feb. 2023 Most of them tend to hang out away from the beaches in the continental shelf waters, Hueter said. Kinsey Crowley, USA TODAY, 17 Jan. 2024 The Parliament approved legislation that allows companies to apply for permits to prospect for minerals across 280,000 square kilometers (108,000 square miles) of Norway’s continental shelf in the Arctic — an area bigger than Ecuador. Todd Woody, Fortune Europe, 13 Jan. 2024 Plus, about one-third of the area Norway has opened up overlaps with the continental shelf and fishery protection zone around the Svalbard archipelago. Eliza Gkritsi, WIRED, 12 Jan. 2024 The decision is a historic event: While some exploration has taken place in international waters in the Pacific, Norway is the first country to open its continental shelf up to deep-sea mining. Eliza Gkritsi, WIRED, 12 Jan. 2024 Brennan noted the continental shelf in that area of Florida's Gulf Coast amplifies the storm's impact and makes the region more susceptible to devastating storm surge. Emily Mae Czachor, CBS News, 30 Aug. 2023 The continental shelf extends so far out from the coast and has a gradual slope, allowing the ocean to grow higher as hurricane winds drive the water onto land, Tang said. Jeff Martin,, 30 Aug. 2023 The wide continental shelf with shallow waters offshore allows water being pushed ahead of a hurricane to stack up, the pair wrote. Dinah Voyles Pulver, USA TODAY, 30 Aug. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'continental shelf.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1892, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of continental shelf was in 1892

Dictionary Entries Near continental shelf

Cite this Entry

“Continental shelf.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition

continental shelf

: a shallow submarine plain of varying width forming a border to a continent and typically ending at the continental slope

More from Merriam-Webster on continental shelf

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!