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22: (Case Study) Discovering plate tectonics

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    Plate tectonics is an overarching paradigm that explains a lot of independent observations about Earth surface dynamics. In this case study, we examine the historical development of this important idea. A separate chapter outlines a modern treatment of plate tectonics.

    After sputtering suggestions of continental movement in the previous 150 years (most notably in 1915), new information about the seafloor between the continents was revealed in the aftermath of World War II’s naval battles. This prompted a fresh look at crustal dynamics, and in the late 1960s and early 1970s, geoscientific consensus gelled around the idea that many different observations about our planet could be explained with a single model. The idea of “plate tectonics” put together old ideas about continental drift with new data showing seafloor spreading. The new theory was a revolutionary explanation that made the distribution of volcanoes, earthquakes, continents, and topography make sense in a way that no idea had achieved before. Fifty years of additional data and testing have confirmed plate tectonics as the key idea in modern geology.

    This page titled 22: (Case Study) Discovering plate tectonics is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Callan Bentley, Karen Layou, Russ Kohrs, Shelley Jaye, Matt Affolter, and Brian Ricketts (VIVA, the Virginia Library Consortium) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.