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Ready, Set, SCIENCE!, by the National Research Council, focuses on K-8 science classsrooms. Check out the other publications in our online store, as well as classroom materials.
This image shows the topography, or shape, of the Earth's surface, on land and below the oceans. Mountain ranges, subduction trenches, tectonic plates, and mid-ocean ridges are all visible in the image.
Click on image for full size
Image from: U.S. Geological Survey

Surface Features

The Earth's surface is composed of rigid plates that move relative to each other. The plates have three main motions, and each one has different results.
1) When two plates collide, one may be forced under the other causing ocean trenches, volcanic islands, and mountain ranges.
2) When two plates move away from each other, rifts occur. In the ocean, this process is called sea floor spreading, and on land rift valleys are formed.
3) When two plates slide past each other, there are faults.
Features such as volcanoes and earthquakes exist mainly along the plate boundaries. Most moons and some planets have many impact craters, however these are rare features on Earth.


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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA