A continental shelf is a submerged nearshore border of a continent that slopes gradually and extends to a point of steeper descent to the ocean bottom. Continental shelves are submerged extension of the continent.
Continental shelves typically have low relief: they usually have less than 1 degree of slope. Average is about one tenth of one degree.
Continental shelves are influenced by a variety of geologic processes, particularly associated with the erosion and deposition of sediments on beaches, deltas, and carbonates (coral reefs). Shallow water coastal and shelf environments are particularly influenced by the impact of large storms.
Continental shelves are commonly cut by submarine canyons.
Continental resources are areas with important natural resources, particularly fisheries, but also oil and gas, and sand and gravel.
During the peak of the last ice age, the world's continental shelves were mostly exposed coastal plain environments.
A shelf break is a general linear trend that marks the boundary between the relatively flat continental shelf and the drop-off into deeper water on the continental slope. The shelf break generally follows the ancient shorelines that existed at the peak of the continental glaciation periods of the ice age when sea level was as much at 400 feet (120 meters) lower that present sea level.
Figure 5.4. The continental shelf around Florida (shown in red) gradually transitions to the continental slope (yellow and green). Florida displays features of a typical "passive continental margin" having wide coastal plains, wide continental shelves, and gentle slopes extending into deep water.