Continental Shelf Definition: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

The place where the ocean waters meet the land is the start of the continental shelf. This shelf can extend for miles into the water. Learn about the features and life within the continental shelf.

What is the Continental Shelf?

There are seven continents in the world, and each one is surrounded by ocean water, but where does a continent end and the ocean begin? If you were standing on the shore, you might say that the ocean starts where the water laps up onto the beach. But a scientist would tell you that area is still part of the continent known as the continental shelf.

The continental shelf is the water-covered edge of a continent.
shelf

The continental shelf is the edge of the continent that is covered by ocean water, so you have to go beyond the continental shelf to leave the continent.

Description of the Continental Shelf

The continental shelf is the fun part of the beach. It's the fairly flat and shallow area where you can play in the waves, surf, and collect seashells.

How far the continental shelf extends into the water depends on the location. The average width is 40 miles, but in some parts of California, the continental shelf is short and extends only about a half mile into the water. In other places, like the coast of Siberia, the shelf stretches about 800 miles out from the shoreline.

The light blue area on this photo, taken from space, shows the continental shelf around Australia.
Australia

The water covering the continental shelf is relatively shallow, but the depth will vary. In some places, the water might be so shallow that it barely covers your toes, but in rare places, the depth can plunge 500 feet, which is as deep as the length of one and a half football fields.

If you snorkel in the shallow waters off the shore's edge, you'll find all kinds of plants as well as fish, crabs, and many other sea creatures. Lots of things can live in the continental shelf area because the life-giving sun's rays can penetrate into the shallow waters.

The continental shelf is a useful area for people living on land. It's where we harvest much of the seafood we love to eat and get much of the energy needed to run our homes and vehicles.

These offshore wind turbines sit on the continental shelf.
wind

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account
Support