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Earth Plate Tectonics - Windows to the Universe

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With Explore the Planets, investigate the planets, their moons, and understand the processes that shape them. By G. Jeffrey Taylor, Ph.D. See our DVD collection.
A map of Earth's tectonic plates. Plate boundaries are shown in red. Learn more about the geologic features related to Earth's tectonic plates at This Dynamic Planet.
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Modified from USGS

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, the Earthís outer layer, called the lithosphere, is broken into plates which fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. These plates move very slowly (2 inches per year).

Plates crash into each other at subduction zones.
Plates pull apart at spreading ridges.
Plates slide past each other along large faults.


Last modified January 19, 2010 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF