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Definition: continental slope from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Sloping, submarine portion of a continent. It extends downward from the edge of the continental shelf. In some places, such as south of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, continental slopes extend directly to the ocean deeps or abyssal plain. In others, such as the east coast of North America, they grade into the gentler continental rises that in turn grade into the abyssal plains.


Summary Article: Continental Slope from The Encyclopedia of Tourism and Recreation in Marine Environments

The continental slope is that section of the seafloor that marks the transition from the comparatively shallow continental shelf to the deep ocean (see Fig. C5). This is a relatively steep oceanic region that approximately marks the seaward extent of the continents (Thomson, 1981). The continental slope is characterized by a rapid increase in bathymetry to thousands of metres over relatively short distances (e.g. a few kilometres). The end of the continental slope is marked by another change in seafloor declination, this time with a rapid gradient decrease that occurs at depths ranging from about 1370 m to about 3000 m (American Geological Institute, 1962). Beyond the continental slope, the ocean floor gradually levels off to the deep sea abyssal plains.

The continental slope is one of the largest topographical features on the earth’s surface, and rises some 3600 m from the seabed (Bramwell, 1990). It also marks the boundary between the continental and the oceanic crusts. The slope surface is convoluted with large submarine canyons and ancient river valleys. The canyons are formed through the erosive action of turbidity currents (deep sea currents), and the ancient river valleys date from times of lower sea levels.

Conservation concern exists regarding the continental slopes and associated resources. Species such as Atlantic halibut and hake are caught in slope habitats. Pollution and discarded nets may threaten these areas. In addition, increasing sophistication of deep-sea exploration technology has opened up some continental slope regions. Areas such as the Gulf of Mexico are now being considered for hydrocarbon extraction.

See also: Abyss, Sea Level Fluctuation.

Related internet sources

Office of Naval Research: http://www.onr.navy.mil/focus/ocean/regions/oceanfloor2.htm

Consortium for Oceanographic Activities for Students and Teachers: http://www.coastnopp.org

Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command: http://pao.cnmoc.navy.mil/pao/Educate/OceanTalk2/indexunderwater.htm

Greenpeace Deep Sea Fishing Report: http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/MultimediaFiles/Live/FullReport/7071.pdf

Anna Hall
© CAB International 2008.

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