A detailed map of the pacific ocean floor (1969)

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Yeah I guess you could say that. Basically there are two types of crust that make up the Earth – continental and oceanic. Oceanic crust is thinner and denser, and so is at a lower elevation whereas continental crust is thicker and more buoyant. Tectonic plates are basically made of one or the other ([this picture](https://encrypted-tbn3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTMZRxgjOweKSy1eeHOQ9sicuIBwvYnr1MqYBrKLlEpeKTUZT5l) is helpful in understanding what I mean). The continental ones don’t really change, and oceanic crust is created new at mid ocean ridges (for example on this map, you’ll notice a prominent gash that goes from around the US/Mexico border south/south-west – that’s a mid ocean ridge), and is recycled in subduction zones. The edge of the continental shelf is basically this boundary (whereas sea level is kind of arbitrary and fluctuates by 100s of metres) and it tends to be a sharp drop off like you see in this map. You’ll notice that you tend to get very deep trenches at these boundaries (western coast of America being the obvious example) and that’s because these boundaries are often subduction zones, where this oceanic crust is being forced underneath the continent, so the drop off becomes even more exaggerated. But even in what are called passive margins where you don’t get subduction (e.g. the Gulf of Mexico) the drop off is still pretty severe and that’s just because of the difference between continental and oceanic crust

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