Continental Slope: Definition & Facts

Continental Slope: Definition & Facts
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  • 0:00 What Is a Continental Slope
  • 1:00 Features of Continental Slopes
  • 2:05 Continental Slopes…
  • 2:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Terry Dunn

Terry has a master's degree in environmental communications and has taught in a variety of settings.

Continental slopes are one of three parts that make up the under-ocean margin surrounding the continents of the world. In this lesson, you'll learn what they are, where they are, and what some of their characteristics are.

What Is a Continental Slope?

Picture the most awesome waterslide you can imagine. You step off dry land where the waterslide starts as a gradual slope, then it drops hundreds, if not thousands of feet, before leveling out again. On this waterslide though, you would be underwater the whole way and you might also encounter some unexpected canyons. This is what would await you if your waterslide took off from most shorelines of the world.

Between dry land and the floor of the deep ocean is the continental margin, which is made up of three parts. The first part you would encounter after stepping off dry land would be the continental shelf; it tends to have a gradual, gentle change in elevation. Next comes the continental slope, where there's a precipitous drop. After the drop, where the angle levels out, is the continental rise. The point where the continental shelf turns into the continental slope, which is not usually a precise spot, is called the continental shelf break.

Features of Continental Slopes

The angle of continental slopes are not the same everywhere. Worldwide, the angle of the continental slopes averages about four degrees, but there are factors that affect the steepness. When the land that borders the ocean shore has newer mountain ranges and a narrow continental shelf, the angle tends to be steepest. These steeper continental slopes are active margins, where tectonic plates are on the move. Oceanic trenches are frequently nearby, too. Areas where the continental slope is not as steep are usually along passive margins, where sediments build up and are eroded away. Most of the continental slopes in the Pacific are steeper than those in the Atlantic, but the flattest continental slopes are in the Indian Ocean.

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