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An archipelago (i// ark-i-PEL-ə-goh), sometimes called an island group or island chain, is a chain, cluster or collection of islands. The word archipelago is derived from the Greek ἄρχι- – arkhi- ("chief") and πέλαγος – pélagos ("sea") through the Italian arcipelago. In Italian, possibly following a tradition of antiquity, the Arcipelago (from medieval Greek *ἀρχιπέλαγος) 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 refer to any island group or, sometimes, to a sea containing a large number of scattered islands.
Archipelagos may be found isolated in bodies of water or neighboring a large land mass. For example, Scotland has more than 700 islands surrounding its mainland which constitute an archipelago. Archipelagos are often volcanic, forming along island arcs generated by subduction zones or hotspots, but may also be the result of erosion, deposition, and land elevation. Depending on their geological origin, islands forming archipelagos can be referred to as oceanic islands, continental fragments, and continental islands. Oceanic islands are mainly of volcanic origin. Continental fragments correspond to land masses that have separated from a continental mass due to tectonic displacement. Finally, sets of islands formed close to the coast of a continent are considered continental archipelagos when they form part of the same continental shelf so islands are just exposed continental shelf.
The five main archipelagos are Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, New Zealand, and the British Isles. The largest archipelagic state in the world, by area and population, is Indonesia. The archipelago with the most islands is the Archipelago Sea in Finland.
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