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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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What drives plate tectonics?
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Many of the most powerful volcanoes on the planet sit along subduction zones, such as the "Ring of Fire" running around the Pacific Ocean. Where two plates come together, there are several different types of interaction. Margins that are divergent feature plates that are moving away from one another, while transform margins feature plates that slip and slide. One example of this is the San Andreas Fault in California, which is the meeting point of the Pacific and North American plates, but rather than colliding, the plates rub against each other horizontally. The study of plate tectonics gives scientists a set of clues about the history of continental movement on the Earth.


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  • Q:

    What drives the process of plate tectonics?

    A:

    Very slow currents in the relatively plastic lower mantle, or aesthenosphere, are thought to push the crustal plates along and drive the process of plate tectonics. These currents are caused by convection, with the mantle rock being heated from below via radioactive decay and thus becoming less dense than the rock above. These hotter rocks move slowly upward, displacing the rock above and forcing it down in an elliptical motion.

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  • Q:

    What causes tectonic plates to move?

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    The three primary causes for tectonic plate movement are the convection of material in the mantle, gravity and the rotation of the planet. These forces cause each of the seven major plates and numerous other microplates to move independently of the others at a rate of a few centimeters per year.

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    How can plates move apart at the mid-ocean ridges and not leave a deep gap in the lithosphere?

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    According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the reason the divergent plate boundaries at mid-ocean ridges don't result in gaps in the Earth's crust is that when the plates move apart, they allow magma to well up from beneath and form new rock. At each of these ridges, new ocean floor is created constantly, filling in any potential gaps.

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    What is some evidence for the plate tectonics theory?

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    Plate tectonics theory, formerly known as the theory of continental drift, is well supported in geology, geography and biology. It has the power to explain many phenomena, such as volcanoes and earthquakes. The theory provides a working model for analyses of phenomena that scientists observe. This explanatory power is, itself, strong evidence that the theory is correct.

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