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Grand Banks
Beneath the cold, choppy waters off the coast of the Canadian province of Newfoundland
and Labrador, the North American continental shelf plunges deep into the floor of the Atlantic
Ocean. Here, where the arctic Labrador Current meets the warm Gulf Stream,
Newfoundland's Grand Banks provide some the richest fishing grounds on earth and some
of the most treacherous shipping routes in history.
The Grand Banks make up only a part of North America's broad continental shelf. Formed by
the movement of the earth's tectonic plates and the wrenching apart of one continent from
another, the shelves surround every continent. They mimic the deep valleys and vast
plateaus of land's visible contours.
Scientists believe that about ten thousand years ago, at the end of the last ice age, the
added water from melting glaciers caused the Atlantic Ocean to rise, claiming the coastline of
what are now Canada and the eastern United States. When water levels stabilized, the North
American coast was sunk only 25 meters (82 feet) below the surface of the Atlantic in some
areas, and more than 700 meters (2,300feet) below the surface in others.
The submerged land off the Canadian coast is broader that anywhere else on the North
American seaboard. It is also one of the widest stretches of continental shelf in the world,
stretching out 480 kilometers (300 miles) from the shore.
Along the southern coast of Newfoundland, the ground rises up below the water to form a
vast series of banks 730 kilometers (450 miles) long and covering some 280,000 square
kilometers (174,000 square miles) in total.
Underwater Life
Between underwater banks high enough to let sunlight through to the ocean's floor, deep
trenches plunge miles under the water's surface, creating upwells of cold ocean bottom
water. This submerged landscape creates a unique environment for marine life.
The presence of sunlight at the ocean's floor allows for aquatic plants that depend on
photosynthesis, the conversion of energy from sunlight into oxygen and usable sugars. The
result is a lush underwater environment where an incredible assortment of fish and other
marine life spawn, birth, and feed.
Atlantic cod, herring, halibut, lobster, and scallops, among others, flourish in the waters of the
Grand Banks. With fish and shellfish come seabirds. Endangered harlequin ducks, rare
shearwaters, petrels, and kittiwakes feed on the plentiful takings from the sea. Marine
mammals, including several types of seals, swim among porpoises, dolphins, and at least
eight different species of whale.
By Amy Witherbee
Source: Canada's Heritage: Grand Banks, 2005, p1, 1p