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Plate Boundaries

Plate Boundaries

Author: Sean Kooker

The following experience will provide companion introductory information for the Plate Boundary and Wilson Cycle unit.  The corresponding PA State starndards information is attached below.

Earth’s surface features and atmosphere are a dynamic system operating over different time periods.

Essential Questions

In what ways do changes in the atmosphere affect the Earth?

Concepts  The surface features of the earth change as a result of observable physical and chemical   processes.

  Movement of the Earth’s crust by Plate tectonics contributes to changes in the surface of   the earth.

  The atmosphere is a uniform mixture of gases that decrease in temperature and pressure   with increasing   altitude.

  Based on systematic, measurable changes in physical properties, the atmosphere is subdivided into different   layers.

  Unequal heating of the surface of the earth contributes to global circulation patterns, climate, and weather.

  Changes in atmospheric composition can lead to changes in the intensity and composition of sunlight reaching   the Earth’s surface that can be observed and measured.

  Climate measurably changes over time due to natural and human processes.

  Weather is the result of complex interactions between atmospheric pressure, land conditions, and ocean   temperatures that can be measured.


  Analyze how the transfer of energy contributes to global processes such as storms, winds, and currents.

  Describe the processes that cause the movement of materials throughout the earth’s systems.

  Analyze the impact of modern technology on the study of the earth and its place in the universe.

  Analyze how the transfer of energy contributes to global processes such as storms, winds, and currents.

  Describe the processes that cause the movement of materials throughout the earth’s systems.

Standards / Eligible Content

  S11.A.1.3.2: Describe or interpret dynamic changes to stable systems (e.g., chemical reactions, human body,   food webs, tectonics, homeostasis).

  S11.A.3.1.1: Apply systems analysis, showing relationships (e.g., flowcharts, concept maps), input and output,   and measurements to explain a system and its parts.

  S11.A.3.3.1: Describe or interpret recurring patterns that form the basis of biological classification, chemical   periodicity, geological order, or astronomical order.

  S11.A.3.3.2: Compare stationary physical patterns (e.g., crystals, layers of rocks, skeletal systems, tree rings,   atomic structure) to the object’s properties.

  S11.A.3.3.3: Analyze physical patterns of motion to make predictions or draw conclusions (e.g., solar   system,   tectonic plates, weather systems, atomic motion, waves).

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Terms associated with Plate Boundaries

[The Earth's Plates]

[Plates, Lithosphere vs. Asthenosphere]

[Convection Cells]

[Sea Floor Spreading and Convection Cells]

[Types of Plate Margins]

[Divergent and Convergent Plate Margins]

[East African Rift Valleys]

[Transform Faulting in association with a Mid-Ocean Ridge/Rift valleys]

[The San Andreas Fault System]

[Zones of Convergence]

[Hot Spot Volcanism]

[Hawaiian Islands]


plate tectonics

Plate Tectonics and the Wilson Cycle

Source: Sean M. Kooker

Plate Tectonics

Plate Tectonics

Plate Tectonics

The Earth’s lithosphere is broken into large pieces called tectonic plates. Convection currents in the partially molten asthenosphere move these plates across the surface of the Earth. Locations where one plate interacts with another are called plate boundaries. There are three types of plate boundaries that occur on Earth, convergent, divergent, and transform. Each type of plate boundary has unique characteristics. We also find volcanoes and earthquakes that occur away from plate boundaries. These are called hot spots. Use the tabs below to explore the features found at plate boundaries and hot spots.

Divergent Plate Boundaries: Rift Valley

This is the boundary between two continental plates that are being torn apart. A crack in the continental crust allows melted rock to escape to the surface, forming new rock and forcing the plates apart. A valley forms between the plates and is eventually filled in with water to create a young sea, similar to the Red sea. Mild earthquakes are common as the land is torn apart.

Transform Plate Boundaries: Transverse Faults

This is a plate boundary in which two plates slide past one another. Friction and pressure are built up as the thick rocky chunks of land are scraped by one another. When this pressure is released, an earthquake occurs. Strong earthquakes are common along transform plate boundaries, though mountains, trenches and volcanoes are rare. A commonly discussed example of a transform plate boundary is the San Andreas Fault in California.

Convergent Plate Boundaries: Subduction Zone

This is the boundary between a piece of oceanic crust and a piece of continental crust that are colliding into each other. The dense, thin oceanic crust is forced underground, into the asthenosphere as it collides with the continental plate. A trench is formed where the plates first meet and strong earthquakes are common. On the continental side of the boundary, volcanic mountains are common as the subducting plate melts in the asthenosphere and the melting rock rises and breaks through the surface. A commonly discussed example of a subduction zone is the Peru-Chile trench, on the West coast of South America.

Convergent Plate Boundaries: Island Arc

This is the boundary between two oceanic plates that are colliding. Both dense, thin plates crash into each other and battle to see which one will be forced to subduct. Eventually, one plate will win, forcing the other plate into the hot mantle below. A trench will form at the point where the two plates meet which is also the site of intense earthquakes. Volcanic islands will rise from the sea-floor above the plate that was not subducted. These volcanoes are fed by the melting remnants of the subducting plate. A commonly discussed example is the Aleutian Island chain in the northern Pacific Ocean.

Convergent Plate Boundaries: Collision Zone

This is the boundary between two continental plates that are colliding. Here, the thick, low density Continental crusts are driven into each other forcing the land to rise, or obduct. This collision forms giant, rugged mountains. It is similar to a head-on collision between two cars. As they collide, the cars crumple up. Earthquakes are common in the active plate boundary. Volcanoes are rare as no crust is being forced into the mantle. A commonly discussed example is the Himalaya Mountain chain in Northern India.

Mantle Hot Spots

Hot spots are active volcanoes that are not located along plate boundaries. The “hot spot” itself is an area of magma (called a plume) that has risen up and broken through the lithosphere, erupting on the surface. It will remain in the same spot while plate moves over it, resulting is a chain of volcanoes, with the only active one directly over the hot spot. As the islands get further from the hot spot, their age increases.

Plate boundaries around the world

Plate Tectonics and Plate Boundaries

Introduction to different Plate boundary types