Global Overview of Continental Shelf Geomorphology Based on the SRTM30_PLUS 30-Arc Second Database

  • Peter T. HarrisEmail author
  • Miles Macmillan-Lawler
Part of the Coastal Research Library book series (COASTALRL, volume 13)


We report the results of a multivariate analysis of geomorphic features occurring on the global continental shelf that were mapped based on the Shuttle Radar Topography Mapping (SRTM30_PLUS) 30-arc sec database. The analysis was based on 11 input variables as follows: (1) the mean continental shelf depth; (2) mean shelf break depth; (3) mean shelf width; (4) percent area of low relief shelf; (5) percent area of medium relief shelf; (6) percent area of high relief shelf; (7) percent area of glacial troughs; (8) percent area of shelf valleys; (9) percent area of basins perched on the shelf; (10) the percent of submarine canyons that are shelf-incising; and (11) the percent area of coral reef. For the analysis the global shelf was divided into 551 reporting blocks, each approximately 500 km in along-shelf length. Eight shelf morphotypes were defined by multivariate analysis of the 11 input variables, and they can be grouped into four broad categories: narrow-shallow shelves; wide-flat shelves; intermediate shelves; and deep-glaciated shelves. There is a negative correlation between shelf width and active plate margins, although there are examples of most shelf morphotypes occurring on both active and passive margins. Glaciation plays a major role in determining shelf geomorphology and characterizes around 21 % of the global shelf. In particular, we find a very strong correlation between mean shelf depth and the percentage area of glacial troughs, indicative of the role played by glaciation and glacial erosion in shaping the global shelf. Coral reef growth is an important factor for one morphotype, which covers 427,000 km2 or about 1.3 % of all continental shelves. The hypsometric curve for mean shelf depth exhibits a peak at a depth of 40 m that coincides with a persistent position of sea level during the last 500,000 years based on one published sea level curve. The geomorphic characterization and classification of the continental shelf at a global scale could be advanced using predictive modeling tools (for tidal sand banks, for example) but is otherwise dependent upon improved resolution bathymetric data becoming available.


Coral Reef Continental Shelf Shelf Break Active Continental Margin Canadian Arctic Archipelago 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The work described in this paper was produced with financial support from GRID-Arendal.


  1. Amos CL, King EL (1984) Sandwaves and sand ridges of the Canadian Eastern seaboard- a comparison to global occurrences. Mar Geol 57:167–208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson JB (1999) Antarctic marine geology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UKCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barrie JV, Conway KW, Picard K, Greene HG (2009) Large-scale sedimentary bedforms and sediment dynamics on a glaciated tectonic continental shelf: examples from the pacific margin of Canada. Cont Shelf Res 29:796–806CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Becker JJ, Sandwell DT, Smith WHF, Braud J, Binder B, Depner J, Fabre D, Factor J, Ingalls S, Kim SH, Ladner R, Marks K, Nelson S, Pharaoh A, Trimmer R, Von Rosenberg J, Wallace G, Weatherall P (2009) Global bathymetry and elevation data at 30 arc seconds resolution: SRTM30_PLUS. Mar Geod 32:355–371CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown J, Colling A, Park D, Phillips J, Rothery D, Wright J (1989) The ocean basins: their structure and evolution. Open University, Pergamon Press, Oxford, 171 ppGoogle Scholar
  6. Dalrymple RW, Boyd R, Zaitlin BA (1994) History of research, types and internal organisation of incised valley systems: introduction to the volume. In: Dalrymple RW, Boyd R, Zaitlin BA (eds) Incised valley systems: origin and sedimentary sequences, vol 51, SEPM special publication. Society for Sedimentary Geology, Tulsa, pp 3–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. EMODNet (2013) European marine observation and data network, digital terrain model data derived from the EMODnet Hydrography portal.
  8. Eryilmaz M, Alpar B, Dogan E, Yiice H, Eryilmaz FY (1998) Underwater morphology of the Aegean Sea and natural prolongation of the Anatolian mainland. Turk J Mar Sci 4:61–74Google Scholar
  9. Field ME, Trincardi F (1991) Regressive coastal deposits on Quaternary continental shelves; preservation and legacy. In: Osborne RH (ed) From shoreline to abyss: contributions in marine geology in honor of Francis Parker Shepard. SEPM Special Publication 46, Tulsa, Oklahoma, pp 107–122Google Scholar
  10. Finkl CW, Benedet L, Andrews JL (2005) Submarine geomorphology of the continental shelf off southeast Florida based on interpretation of airborne laser bathymetry. J Coast Res 21:1178–1190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ginsburg RN, James NP (1974) Holocene carbonate sediments of continental shelves. In: Burk CA, Drake CL (eds) The geology of continental margins. Springer, Berlin, pp 137–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hambrey MJ (1991) Structure and dynamics of the Lambert Glacier-Amery Ice Shelf system: implications for the origin of Prydz bay sediments. In: Barron J, Larson B, et al. (eds) Proceedings of the Ocean Drilling Program, Scientific Results, UCL Press, London, pp 61–75Google Scholar
  13. Hambrey MJ (1994) Glacial environments. UCL Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  14. Harris PT (1994a) Comparison of tropical, carbonate and temperate, siliciclastic tidally dominated sedimentary deposits: examples from the Australian continental shelf. Aust J Earth Sci 41:241–254CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Harris PT (1994b) Incised valleys and backstepping deltaic deposits in a foreland-basin setting, Torres Strait and Gulf of Papua, Australia. In: Dalrymple RW, Boyd R, Zaitlin B (eds) Incised valley systems: origin and sedimentary sequences, vol 51, SEPM special publication. SEPM, Tulsa, pp 97–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Harris PT, Coleman R (1998) Estimating global shelf sediment mobility due to swell waves. Mar Geol 150:171–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Harris PT, O’Brien PE (1996) Geomorphology and sedimentology of the continental shelf adjacent to Mac. Robertson Land, East Antarctica: a scalped shelf. Geo-Mar Lett 16:287–296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Harris PT, Whiteway T (2011) Global distribution of large submarine canyons: geomorphic differences between active and passive continental margins. Mar Geol 285:69–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Harris PT, Heap A, Passlow V, Hughes M, Daniell J, Hemer M, Anderson O (2005) Tidally-incised valleys on tropical carbonate shelves: an example from the northern Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Mar Geol 220:181–204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Harris PT, MacMillan-Lawler M, Rupp J, Baker EK (2014) Geomorphology of the oceans. Mar Geol 352:4–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Harris PT, Alo B, Bera A, Bradshaw M, Coakley BJ, Grosvik BE, Lourenço N, Moreno JR, Shrimpton M, Simcock A, Singh A (2015). Chapter 21. Offshore hydrocarbon industries, United Nations World Ocean Assessment. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  22. Hopley D, Smithers SG, Parnell KE (2007) The geomorphology of the Great Barrier Reef: development, diversity, and change. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  23. Huang Z, Nichol SL, Harris PT, Caley J (2014) Classification of submarine canyons of the Australian continental margin. Mar Geol 357:362–383CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. IHO (2008) Standardization of undersea feature names: guidelines proposal form terminology, 4th edn. International Hydrographic Organisation and Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, Monaco, p 32Google Scholar
  25. Kennett J (1982) Marine geology. Prentice-Hall, Englewood CliffsGoogle Scholar
  26. Kenyon NH, Belderson RH, Stride AH, Johnson MA (1981) Offshore tidal sandbanks as indicators of net sand transport and as potential deposits. Spec Publ Int Assoc Sedimentol 5:257–268Google Scholar
  27. McCrory PA, Arends RG, Ingle JC Jr, Isaacs CM, Stanley RG, Thornton MLC (1991) Geohistory analysis of the Santa Maria basin, California, and its relationship to tectonic evolution of the continental margin. AAPG Bull 75(2):374Google Scholar
  28. Milkov AV (2000) Worldwide distribution of submarine mud volcanoes and associated gas hydrates. Mar Geol 167:29–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Off T (1963) Rythmic linear sand bodies caused by tidal currents. Bull Am Assoc Pet Geol 47:324–341Google Scholar
  30. Pelletier BR (1986) Seafloor morphology and sediments. In: Martini IP (ed) Canadian inland seas, vol 44, Elsevier oceanography series. Elsevier Science Publishers, Amsterdam, pp 143–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Roberts CM, Hawkins JP (1999) Extinction risk in the sea. Trends Ecol Evol 14:241–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Rohling EJ, Grant KM, Bolshaw M, Roberts AP, Siddall M, Hemleben C, Kucera M (2009) Antarctic temperature and global sea level closely coupled over the past five glacial cycles. Nat Geosci 2:500–504CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Seibold E, Berger WH (2013) The sea floor: an introduction to marine geology, 3rd edn. Springer, Berlin, 358 ppGoogle Scholar
  34. Sharma GD (1979) Marine geology of the Alaskan shelf, incorporating meteorological, hydrographic, sedimentological and geochemical data. Springer, New York, 498 ppGoogle Scholar
  35. Shepard FP (1963) Submarine geology. Harper & Row, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  36. Smith WH, Sandwell DT (1997) Global sea floor topography from satellite altimetry and ship depth soundings. Sci Mag 277:1956–1962Google Scholar
  37. Stammer D, Ray RD, Andersen OB, Arbic BK, Bosch W, Carrère L, Cheng Y, Chinn DS, Dushaw BD, Egbert GD, Erofeeva SY, Fok HS, Green JAM, Griffiths S, King MA, Lapin V, Lemoine FG, Luthcke SB, Lyard F, Morison J, Müller M, Padman L, Richman JG, Shriver JF, Shum CK, Taguchi E, Yi Y (2014) Accuracy assessment of global barotropic ocean tide models. Rev Geophys 52:243–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Stride AH (1982) Offshore tidal sands – processes and deposits. Chapman and Hall, London, 222 ppCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Swift DJP, Thorne JA (1991) Sedimentation on continental margins, I: a general model for shelf sedimentation. Spec Publ Int Assoc Sedimentol 14:3–31Google Scholar
  40. Torgersen T, Hutchinson MF, Searle DE, Nix HA (1983) General bathymetry of the Gulf of Carpentaria and the quaternary physiography of lake Carpentaria. Palaeogeogr Palaeoclimatol Palaeoecology 41:207–225Google Scholar
  41. Uchupi E, Emery KO (1991) Genetic global geomorphology: a prospectus. In: Osborne RH (ed) From shoreline to abyss: contributions in marine geology in honor of Francis Parker Shepard. SEPM Special Publication, Tulsa, pp 273–290Google Scholar
  42. Walker RG, James NP (1992) Facies models: response to sea level change. Geological Association of Canada, St. Johns, p 409Google Scholar
  43. Wellner JS, Heroy DC, Anderson JB (2006) The death mask of the Antarctic ice sheet: comparison of glacial geomorphic features across the continental shelf. Geomorphology 75:157–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Whiteway T (2009) Australian bathymetry and topography grid. Geoscience Australia, Record 2009/21, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  45. WRI (2011) World Resources Institute, reefs at risk revisited.

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.GRID-ArendalArendalNorway

Personalised recommendations