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Geosciences LibreTexts

Why It Matters


Plate tectonics is often seen as the missing piece of the puzzle for geologists. Plate tectonics explains, either directly or indirectly, just about every topic discussed in geology. It is the glue that binds everything together. Before plate tectonics, geologists had no explanation for these (and other) questions:

  1. What causes the tectonic plates to move the way they do?
  2. Why is the oceanic crust younger than continental crust?
  3. Why do the continents look the way they do, like puzzle pieces or are positioned as they are?
  4. Why are Japan and California so prone to earthquakes and volcanoes?
  5. How did the Himalayas form?
  6. Why do we find evidence of aquatic species at the very top of the Himalayas and other mountainous areas?
  7. How do mountains form?
  8. Why do the oceans look the way they do?
  9. What factors contributed to the occurrence of the ice ages?
  10. Why the same species can be found on continents on opposite sides of the oceans?

As you move through this section, keep in mind all of these questions and make note of any other impacts the Theory of Plate Tectonics has had on the field of geology.

Learning Outcomes

  • Describe the processes of development of continental and oceanic crusts, continents, continental rifting, supercontinents, volcanic arcs, and the formation of ocean basins in relation to plate tectonics
  • Describe and compare different types of plate motions, rates of motion, and the driving mechanisms and forces involved with each
  • Compare and contrast Continental Drift with Plate Tectonics
  • Critique and interpret major types of evidence supporting the Theory of Plate Tectonics
  • Explain how rock formations, geologic environments, mineral resources, volcanoes and their eruptions, landforms, mountain building processes, climate change, evolution, folds, faults and earthquakes relate to and are affected by plate tectonics
  • Interpret and explain hot spots and how they relate to plate motion
  • Categorize and differentiate between a variety of global and regional plate boundaries and interpret the geological implications and history associated with each

Ok, let’s get started! [Or insert another appropriate transition statement here.]