skip navigation link

multibeam relief


Extended Continental Shelf Project Data Management

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

Under UNCLOS countries are entitled to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) extending 200 nautical miles from the coastline. Nations may also exercise sovereign rights over the physical continental shelf in areas beyond the EEZ. There are as many as 80 countries whose borders have the potential to be expanded under Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. By definition, borders can be expanded based on a complex set of criteria that define the water depth, including the 2,500 meter contour, seafloor geology and sediment thickness, as well as distance from the coastline.

The United States is in the process of implementing a program in order to confirm our exclusive sovereign rights over the continental shelf to manage its natural resources on and under an area of at least one million square kilometers-more than twice the size of California. The worth of the resources on the U.S. ECS is estimated to be at least $1 trillion. The Department of State leads an Interagency Task Force that includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Minerals Management Service (MMS), U.S. Navy (USN), Arctic Research Commission (ARC), and others.

likely US ECS regions identified by Mayer et al.

Figure 2: Eight regions (in red) adjacent to the United States and its dependences, where there likely exists extended continental shelf (ECS) beyond 200 nautical miles (in blue) identified by Mayer et al.(2002), The compilation and analysis of data relevant to a U.S. Claim under the United Nations Law of the Sea Article 76: A Preliminary Report. The regions presented in this figure are the result of an academic study, do not represent a formal position of the United States, and are without prejudice to any rights that the United States has with respect to its continental shelf.