Q:

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

A:

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

  • Q:

    What argument was used to dispute the theory of plate tectonics?

    A:

    Andrew Alden of About explains that Australian geologist Sam Carey's theory of Earth expansion, the idea that the continents fit together properly only on a formerly smaller Earth, once rivaled the theory of plate tectonics. Carey's ideas expanded upon Wegener's continental-drift theory and hypothesised that the continents fit together properly on a shrunken Earth. From about the 1930s to the 1950s, this idea of Earth expansion remained a legitimate hypothesis.

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  • Q:

    What is the difference between continental drift and plate tectonics?

    A:

    Plate tectonics is the theory that explains the structure, composition and internal workings of the Earth on a worldwide scale, while continental drift refers to the theory that the continents all used to be connected in one megacontinent which scientists dub Pangaea. Both theories attempt to explain the movement of parts of the Earth's crust.

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  • Q:

    Why do plates move?

    A:

    Plates move because of gravity, which is the main driving force behind plate tectonics. Another reason why plates move is due to convection.

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  • Q:

    How do tectonic plates move?

    A:

    Earth's tectonic plates move due to the movement of magma in the mantle underneath the crust. Extreme temperatures inside the planet's core cause a convection cycle in which hot magma rises to the surface and eventually sinks back toward the core as it cools.

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