Q:

How do plate tectonics work?

A:

Quick Answer

Each continent is embedded onto plates, which are made from lithospheres - Earth's outermost layer. Because this layer is stronger than the underlying layer, it is able to move. Several forces encourage it to do this, which means Earth's landmass remains the same, but the location of continents shifts slightly each year.

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The plate tectonics theory first developed in the 1960s and 1970s as a means of explaining why Earth's continents have moved throughout history. It states that the layer underpinning the continents, the lithosphere, is able to move. This occurs when the seafloor's motion creates drag, and when it generates a downward suction. Another theory is that the sun and the moon generate tidal forces that encourage it to move.

The movement from plate tectonics is fairly minimal, at a rate of 0 to 100mm per year. The lithospheres are made of seven primary areas, as well as some minor regions. Sometimes the plates are able to move past each other, but at other times they crash, giving rise to events like earthquakes. In addition, crashing plates can cause volcanic eruptions and the development of mountains. While it is not always dangerous to live on or near a plate boundary, some areas do experience more earthquakes as a result.

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Related Questions

  • Q:

    What is some evidence for the plate tectonics theory?

    A:

    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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  • Q:

    What would happen if plate tectonics stopped?

    A:

    If plate tectonics stopped, the continents would stay in place rather than moving slowly around the face of the earth. This would also result in a reduction in volcanic activity and earthquakes. Lower volcanic activity causes warmer surface temperatures because particles released by volcanoes have a cooling effect.

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  • Q:

    What drives plate tectonics?

    A:

    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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  • Q:

    What does plate tectonics mean?

    A:

    According to About.com, plate tectonics is the scientific theory that attempts to explain the movement of the Earth's lithosphere, which has formed the landscape features seen across the globe. It provides geology with a comprehensive theory that explains how the Earth works.

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