Shop Windows to the Universe

Hands On Mineral Identification helps you to identify over 14,500 minerals! By M. Darby Dyar, Ph.D. See our DVD collection.
This is a drawing of the Earth's lithosphere.
Click on image for full size

Clues to Plate Movements

Many kinds of surface features are clues to a sliding lithosphere.

Two types of features can form when plates move apart. At ocean ridges, the crust splits apart to make room for molten mantle rock. Continental rifts form when a continent begins to split apart.

When two plates move towards each other, sometimes one of the plates is forced to go down into Earthís hot interior at a subduction zone and volcanoes form nearby. Or, if neither plate is subducted, the two will crash into each other forming huge mountains.

These features are special clues that prove our planet's surface is in motion. There are only a few other planets that have clues like these.

Last modified March 2, 2008 by Randy Russell.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Our online store includes issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist, full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science, as well as books on science education!

Windows to the Universe Community



You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Plate Tectonics

Many forces change the surface of the Earth over time. The largest force that changes our planetís surface is movement of Earth's outer layer in a process called plate tectonics. As shown in this picture,...more


When two sections of the Earth's crust collide, one slab of lithosphere can be forced back down into the deeper regions of the Earth, as shown in this picture. The slab that is forced back into the Earth...more

Mountain Building by way of Subduction

Mountains are built through a general process called "deformation" of the crust of the Earth. Deformation is a fancy word which could also mean "folding". An example of this kind of folding comes from...more

Volcanic Ash

Ash is formed as a volcano erupts when rocks made by the volcano blow apart into millions of tiny pieces. The rocks are still very hot, because they just formed from lava. If the hot rocks come into contact...more

Cinder Cones

Cinder cones are simple volcanoes which have a cone shape and are not very big. Compare the size of this volcano to the strato-volcano in this image. They are usually made of piles of lava, not ash. During...more

Flowing Lava

Lava can move in two ways, wide flat lava flows, or through channels which squeeze the lava into a small area. The fastest lava flows move at about 6 mi/hr, an easy jog, but they average between 2/3 and...more

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