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An archipelago ( ) is a chain or cluster of islands that are formed tectonically. The word archipelago is directly derived from the Greek arkhon (arkhi-) ("main") and pelagos ("sea"). In Italian, possibly following a tradition of antiquity, the Archipelago (Greek: Αρχιπέλαγος) was the proper name for the Aegean Seamarker 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 Seamarker.

Types of archipelagos

Archipelagos are usually found in the open sea; less commonly, a large land mass may neighbour them. For example, Scotlandmarker 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 Japanmarker, the Philippinesmarker, New Zealandmarker, the United Kingdommarker and Indonesiamarker. The largest archipelago in the world, by size, is Indonesia. The archipelago with the most islands is the Archipelago Seamarker in Finlandmarker, but these islands are generally small.

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