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An archipelago is a chain or cluster of islands that are formed tectonically. The word archipelago literally means "chief sea", from Italian arcipelago, derived ultimately from Greek arkhon (arkhi-) ("leader") and pelagos ("sea"). In Italian, possibly following a tradition of antiquity, the Archipelago (Greek: Αρχιπέλαγος) was the proper name for the Aegean Sea and, later, usage shifted to refer to the Aegean Islands (since the sea is remarkable for its large number of islands). It is now used to generally refer to any island group or, sometimes, to a sea containing a large number of scattered islands like the Aegean Sea.[1]

Types of archipelagos

Archipelagos are usually found in the open sea; less commonly, a large land mass may neighbour them. For example, Scotland has more than 700 islands surrounding its mainland. Archipelagos are often volcanic, forming along island arcs generated by subduction zones or hotspots, but there are many other processes involved in their construction, including erosion, deposition, and land elevation.

The five largest modern countries that are mainly archipelagos are Japan, the Philippines, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Indonesia (the world's largest archipelagic state according to the CIA World Factbook).[2]

The largest archipelago in the world by size is the Canadian Arctic Archipelago of Northern Canada.[3] It is situated in the Arctic Ocean.[3] The archipelago with most islands is the Archipelago Sea in Finland, but these islands are, on average, small.

Part of this article consists of modified text from Wikipedia, and the article is therefore licensed under GFDL.


  1. Archipelago. Farlex, Inc. (2008). Archived from the original on 2008. Retrieved on 2008-10-02.
  2. Indonesia. The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency (2008-12-04). Retrieved on 2008-12-07.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Robert M. Bone, Ph.D.. Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2008. Retrieved on 2008-12-07.