Q:

What causes continents to move across the Earth's surface?

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Quick Answer

Tectonic activity causes continental drift to occur on the Earth's surface. National Geographic explains that continents rest upon massive slabs of rock called tectonic plates. Over the course of millions of years, tectonic activity shifts these plates and rearranges the accompanying landmasses.

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What causes continents to move across the Earth's surface?
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Full Answer

Scientists theorize that 200 million years ago, all of Earth's current continents were joined as a single landmass known as Pangaea. Within the seafloor of the oceans, tectonic plates move apart and molten rock rises from within the Earth and forms new crust material. As seafloor spreading continues and the ocean floors grows wider, continents on opposite sides move further away from each other. North America and Europe move away from each other at a rate of approximately 1 inch per year.

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Related Questions

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    Three types of faults are normal faults, reverse faults and strike-slip faults. A fault's type depends on the kinds of forces acting upon it. A fault is a crack or fracture of the Earth's crust where movement occurs in the rock on either side of the crack.

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    What drives plate tectonics?

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    The plate tectonics theory suggests that the outer shell of the Earth's surface is split into a few plates that move along the mantle, forming a hard shell, with pressure from mid-ocean ridges and subduction zones causing the shifting in the plates. Mid-ocean ridges are the gaps that lie between the plates, much like the seams on a basketball. Magma oozes through these ridges, creating new crust on the ocean floor and pushing the plates apart, while subduction zones sit at the meeting point between plates. One slides under the other, pulling the crust down as it goes.

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    How far do tectonic plates move each year?

    A:

    Earth has between 10 and 20 crustal plates, each moving at a different rate. The slowest is the Eurasian plate, which moves less than an inch per year, while the plate with fastest known movement is the Cocos plate, which grinds against the west coast of Central America at an estimated 8.55 inches per year.

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    What happens when two continental plates collide?

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    When two continental tectonic plates collide, it causes the rocks in both plates to fold and eventually become piled up to form mountains. The most obvious example of this are the Himalayas, which were formed as a result of the collision between the Eurasian and Indian continental plates.

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