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Plate Tectonics. Tectonic Plates are…. Pieces of the lithosphere that move around on top of the asthenosphere are called tectonic plates. Tectonic plates consist of the crust and the rigid, outermost part of the mantle.

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Plate Tectonics

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Plate tectonics

Plate Tectonics

Tectonic plates are

Tectonic Plates are…

  • Pieces of the lithosphere that move around on top of the asthenosphere are called tectonic plates.

  • Tectonic plates consist of the crust and the rigid, outermost part of the mantle.

    • Remember! The plates are a part of the lithosphere so they are made of the same thing!

A giant jigsaw puzzle

A Giant Jigsaw Puzzle

  • Each tectonic plate fits together with the tectonic plates that surround it.

  • The lithosphere is like a jigsaw puzzle. The tectonic plates are like the pieces of the puzzle.

Plate tectonics

  • There are 11major tectonic plates. As you can see, they all fit together like the puzzle just mentioned.

Plate tectonics

  • Tectonic plates “float” on the asthenosphere.

    • Remember? Like ice on water!!

  • The plates cover the surface of the asthenosphere, and they touch one another and move around.

Plate tectonics

  • Continental drift is the hypothesis that states that continents once formed a single landmass, broke up, and drifted to their present locations.

  • Scientist Alfred Wegenerdeveloped this continental drifthypothesis in the early 1900s.

    • People were NOT happy about it!

Plate tectonics

  • Continental drift also proved to be an explanation for how fossils of the same species were found on continents separated by ocean.

Plate tectonics

  • Continental drift is the result of plate movement due to convection currents in the mantle.



  • Wegener theorized that all of the present continents were once joined in a single, huge continent he called Pangaea. Pangaea existed about 245 million years ago!

  • Pangaea is Greek

    for “all Earth”

Plate tectonics

Taking a look at Pangaea over the years…

Sea floor spreading

Sea-Floor Spreading

  • Evidence to support the continental drift hypothesis comes from sea-floor spreading.

  • Sea-floor spreading is the process by which new oceanic lithosphere forms as magma rises toward the surface and solidifies.

Mid ocean ridges sea floor spreading

Mid-Ocean Ridges & Sea-Floor Spreading

  • Mid-ocean ridges are underwater mountain chains that run through Earth’s ocean basins.

  • This is where sea-floor spreading takes place! animation depicting sea-floor spreading of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

Evidence for sea floor spreading magnetic reversals

Evidence for Sea-Floor SpreadingMagnetic Reversals

  • Some of the most important evidence of sea-floor spreading comes from magnetic reversals recorded in the ocean floor.

  • Throughout Earth’s history, the north and south magnetic poles have changed places many times.

Plate tectonics


  • Molten rock at the mid-ocean ridge contains tiny grains of magnetic minerals that act like compasses.

  • These minerals align with the magnetic field of the Earth. When the molten rock cools, the record of these tiny compasses remains in the rock.

Plate tectonics


  • When the Earth’s magnetic field reverses, the magnetic mineral grains align in the opposite direction. The new rock records the direction of the Earth’s magnetic field.

  • As the sea floor spreads away from a mid-ocean ridge, it carries with it a record of these magnetic reversals.

Plate tectonics boundaries

Plate Tectonics & Boundaries

Tectonic plate boundaries

Tectonic Plate Boundaries

  • As scientists’ understanding of mid-ocean ridges and magnetic reversals grew, a theory was formed to explain how tectonic plates move.

  • Plate tectonics is the theory that explains how large pieces of the Earth’s outermost layer, called tectonic plates, move and change shape.

Plate tectonics

  • A boundary is a place where tectonic plates touch. All tectonic plates share boundaries with other tectonic plates.

  • The type of boundary depends on how the tectonic plates move relative to one another.

Plate tectonics

  • There are three types of tectonic plate boundaries:

  • Convergent Boundaries

  • Divergent Boundaries

  • Transform Boundaries

Plate tectonics

  • When two tectonic plates collide, the boundary between them is a convergent boundary.

  • What happens at convergent boundaries depends on the kind of crust at the leading edge of each tectonic plate.

Draw these arrows in the empty box to the right of the notes.

Plate tectonics

The 3 types of convergent boundaries are:

Plate tectonics

The Andes Mountains are a great example of a convergent, oceanic-continental boundary.

Plate tectonics

  • When two tectonic plates separate, the boundary between them is called a divergent boundary.

  • New sea floor forms at divergent boundaries.

Draw these arrows in the empty box to the right of the notes.

Plate tectonics

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is an example of a divergent boundary.

Plate tectonics

  • When two tectonic plates slide past each other horizontally, the boundary between is called a transform boundary.

  • The San Andreas Fault in California is an example of a transform boundary.

Draw these arrows in the empty box to the right of the notes.

Plate tectonics

  • This is a photo from National Geographic. It is showing “a groove along the San Andreas Fault” that slices through the Carrizo Plain, about 100 miles north of L.A.

Plate tectonics

  • Remember!

    • Convection is the movement within the mantle that is responsible for plate motion.

Tectonic plate motion

Tectonic Plate Motion…

  • Tectonic plate movements are so slow and gradual that you can’t see or feel them. The movement is measured in CENTIMETERS per year!

Plate tectonics

  • Scientists use a system of satellites called the global positioning system (GPS) to measure the rate of tectonic plate movement.

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