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Plate Tectonics

Plate Tectonics factsheet pdf


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The outer crust of the Earth is divided into rigid plates.


They vary in shape and size and move relative to one
another over the globe, at an average speed similar to the
growth rate of your fingernail. There are nine major plates:
the Eurasian, African, South American, North American,
Nazca, Antarctic, Pacific, Juan De Fuca and Indian-Australian.

Eurasian Plate
9cm

1cm

1cm

North
American
Plate

Eurasian Plate

Juan De Fuca
Plate
African
Plate

Pacific
Plate
9cm

Indian-Australian
Plate

South
American
Plate

6cm

Nazca
Plate

Arabian
1cm

4cm
4cm

Somali
sub-Plate

7cm

Antarctic Plate

Most of the edges of these plates are geologically active.


There are three types of boundaries between plates:
1

Divergent boundaries occur where plates move away


from each other and fresh magma wells up to fill the gap
creating new crust as it cools and solidifies.
Divergent boundary

Oceanic plate

(5-7km)

Convection drives the motion


of the lithospheric plate
2
1 Lava cascades, Hawaii Volcanoes
National Park, 1969.
US Geological Survey, Department of the Interior/USGS

Upwelling magma

2 San Andreas Fault from Palo Alto


to Saratoga, USA, 1980.
US Geological Survey, Department of the Interior/USGS
photo by R E Wallace

Unless otherwise stated, British Geological Survey


NERC 2007. All rights reserved.

www.bgs.ac.uk
Plate Tectonics factsheet pdf
www.bgs.ac.uk/ask

Convergent boundaries occur where plates collide and


one plate is pushed underneath the other (subducted).
Crust is returned to the interior of the Earth and as the
old plate sinks the rock melts and erupts as volcanoes at
the surface.

Volcanoes

Continental crust
Oceanic crust

Plate is subducted
beneath continental plate
as it is denser

Molten rock wells up


to erupt from
volcanoes

Transform fault boundaries, where plates slide past


one another. Movement is not smooth but more like a
stick-slip process, where sudden slips can cause damaging
earthquakes e.g. the San Andreas Fault.
1

Div
erg
ent

bou

t
faul

ra

ryT

nda

rm
nsfo

Dive

rgen
t

bou

nda

ry

ing
ell a
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Up agm
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2
1 San Andreas fault close to Olema,
San Francisco, USA, 1906.
US Geological Survey, Department of the Interior/USGS
photo by G K Gilbert

2 San Andreas Fault, California.


A view to the east showing the fault
line bisecting the Highway 14 road.
US Geological Survey, Department of the Interior/USGS
photo by R E Wallace

For further information:

www.bgs.ac.uk/education/earthquakes.html
www.cotf.edu/ete/modules/msese/earthsysflr/plates1.html

Unless otherwise stated, British Geological Survey


NERC 2007. All rights reserved.