Shelf Seas: Physical and Biogeochemical Processes

While continental self seas make up only about 7% of the area of the world ocean they have a disproportionate importance, both for the functioning of the global ocean system and for the social and economic value which are derived from them. They are also increasingly affected by continental processes linked to human activities whose long-term impacts are often difficult to assess.

Shelf seas supply many industrial products from sand and aggregates for construction, energy in the form of power conversion from tidal and current flows (although still in its infancy), hydrocarbons, fisheries and fish farming, transport and recreation, and many others. Biologically shelf seas are much more productive than the deep ocean and provide more than 90% of the fish eaten. The increasing impact of human activities on the biogeochemical processes of these complex regions and the need to understand how they interact and are affecting local, regional and global interactions is increasingly a focus of European legislation whose aim is to protect and safeguard these ecosystems.


European shelf seas range from the far northern Arctic regions to enclosed seas such as the Baltic, the Black Sea and Mediterranean, to the Atlantic Ocean – covering an enormous diversity of climatic and geological environments. An understanding of their function has always been recognised as of major importance to Europe and will continue to be so in the future with the added uncertainty of the impact of global climate change.




Physical and Biological Oceanography of Shelf Seas, John H. Simpson, Jonathan Sharples, Cambridge University Press, 424 pages, ISBN 978-0-521-87762-6, (2012)