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The line separating oceans from continents is not clear or not well defined. Continents do not end abruptly at the shoreline. Actually, they slope seaward from the coast to a point where the slope becomes very steep. Continental Shelf is a gently sloping and shallow platform extending from the adjoining continental landmass into the sea. In other words, the shallow submerged extension of the continent is called the Continental shelf. This zone of the sea bed is almost uniform with a gentle gradient.
Hypsometric Curve: A graphic representation that shows the height of a particular place found on land and the height of ocean features at sea. 'Hypso' means height in Greek.

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The continental shelf is of great importance for the following reasons:
  • Continental shelves are one of the richest fishing grounds in the world. Because they are shallow enough for the sunlight to penetrate through the water, promoting the abundant growth of plankton, seaweeds, and grass. Hence, these zones become the richest fishing grounds in the world.
Example:
The Grand Banks of Newfoundland, Canada.
  • Also, continental shelves have vast deposits of minerals and mineral fuels (petroleum). Therefore, this zone becomes accessible for oil drilling and mining activities.
Example:
Mumbai High in the Arabian Sea.
Oil and Natural Gas Corporation: ONGC is the India’s largest oil and gas exploration and production company. It is recently estimated that about 20 million tons of oil reserves found west of Mumbai High offshore.