What is the Shelf Break?

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Created By:
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Don Reed
Dept. of Geology
San Jose State University
©Copyright 2008
Last Updated on 
Sept. 15, 2008

Shelf break

Image from "Sea Floor Topography and Backscatter Intensity of the Hudson Canyon Region Offshore of New York and New Jersey" - U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2004-1441
(Butman and others, 2006)


The shelf break marks a distinct change in the slope of the sea floor from the flat continental shelf to the steep sea floor of the continental slope.

The shelf break is typically located at a water depth of 130 meters, which coincides with the position of shoreline 18,000 years ago during height of last ice age.

Massive continental glaciers have grown or retreated with each change in global climate over the last 3-5 million years (especially last 2 million years), the so-called ice ages. The large volume of water locked in massive continental glaciers during cold periods of earth history has been removed from the ocean, thus resulting in a fall in the position of sea level worldwide.

Conversely, retreating or melting continental glaciers produces a rise in global sea level.


What is the continental slope?
Click on label

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