Plate Tectonic Theory

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1 Plate Tectonic Theory Not continental drift!! Importance: The unifying theory for all other theories in the Earth sciences Has resulted in a more detailed understanding of Earth history Has enabled geologists to more precisely (and cheaply) discover new oil, natural gas, and other subsurface natural resource deposits Lithosphere and Asthenosphere Important Definitions Lithospheric Plate a large segment of Earth s crust and upper parts of mantle; extends to top of the low velocity zone Lithospheric Plate Boundary (Margin) Divergent - plates move away from one another Convergent plates move toward one another Transform plates move horizontally past one another Alfred Lothar Wegener ( ) Part I Development of Plate Tectonic Theory 1

2 Pangaea (Greek, meaning all lands ) Wegener s Evidence for Pangaea: Fit of the Continents Continental margins fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle Paleontological Similar fossils on opposite sides of ocean basins Geological Similar rock types on opposite sides of ocean basins Climatological Evidence of glaciation in tropical climates Fossils of tropical plant species in polar climates Positions of the continents approximately 200 million years ago Fit of the Continents Paleontological Evidence Locations of Mesosaurus fossils Glossopteris 2

3 Geological Evidence Glossopteris Similarity of rock types and ages in the Appalachian, British Isles and Caledonian mountain systems Geological Evidence Scottish Highlands Reconstruction of the Appalachian mountain system at the time it formed, approximately 300 million years ago Highlands, North Carolina Climatological Evidence 3

4 Glacial Grooves Why was Wegener s idea rejected? Wegener (left) and an Innuit guide on his last expedition in Greenland. This is one of the last photographs taken of Wegener, taken shortly before his death. Discovery of The Mid-Ocean Ridge System Mid-Ocean Ridge System Paleomagnetism the study of Earth s magnetic field as recorded in ancient rocks Magnetic minerals point in the direction of the magnetic north pole. 4

5 Apparent Polar Wandering: Two North Poles? Apparent Polar Wandering: Single North Pole Use of Magnetic Minerals to Determine Paleolatitude Step 1: Determine Magnetic Dip: a) 90 o (NH) b) 63 o (NH) c) 37 o (NH) d) 60 o (SH) e) 6 o (SH) Step #2: Determine Paleolatitude From Magnetic Dip a)90 o N (North Pole) b)42 o N c) 18 o N d)38 o S e)3 o S Cox and Dallrymple: Magnetic Reversals from all continents record changes in Earth s magnetic field at the same time Cox and Dallrymple: The Magnetic Time Scale 5

6 Harry Hess: The mid-ocean ridge is a site of sea floor spreading Vine and Matthews: Magnetic sea floor stripes record magnetic reversals Normal Polarity exhibited by rocks with magnetic minerals which point towards today s position of the magnetic north pole Reversed Polarity exhibited by rocks with minerals which point towards today s position of magnetic south As the sea floor spreads, repeated stripes of normal and reversed polarity ocean floor basalts are erupted along the MOR Problem: What did the theory of sea floor spreading imply about the size of the Earth? 6

7 Solution to Problem: Distribution of shallow-, intermediate-, and deep-foci earthquakes: Benioff Zones Benioff Zones Part II The Theory Types of Lithospheric Plate Boundaries Convergent Plate Boundaries Characterized by compressive tectonic stress Oceanic continental convent boundary Oceanic-oceanic convergent boundary Continental-continental convergent boundary Divergent Plate Boundaries Characterized by extensional tectonic stress Oceanic-oceanic divergent boundary Continental-continental divergent boundary Types of Lithospheric Plate Boundaries Transform Plate Boundaries Characterized by shear tectonic stress Continental-continental transform plate boundary Oceanic-oceanic transform plate boundary 7

8 Oceanic-Continental Convergent Plate Boundary Formation of a subduction zone and continental margin volcanic arc Subduction of higher density (mafic) oceanic lithosphere beneath lower density (felsic) continental lithosphere Formation of magma in the mantle wedge Formation of a continental margin volcanic arc on the overriding continental lithosphere Examples: Cascade Range, Andean Range Cascade Range Andes Range Oceanic-Oceanic Convergent Plate Boundary Formation of a subduction zone and volcanic island arc Subduction of (mafic) oceanic lithosphere beneath (mafic) oceanic lithosphere Formation of magma in the mantle wedge Formation of a volcanic island arc on the overriding oceanic lithosphere Examples: Lesser Antilles, western Aleutians, Japanese islands 8

9 Lesser Antilles Aleutian Islands Japanese Islands Continental-Continental Convergent Plate Boundary Low density (felsic) continental rocks pushed upward by compressive tectonic forces Medium to high grade metamorphism Earth s highest mountain ranges Examples: Himalayas, Appalachians Himalayas Appalachians 9

10 Formation of a mountain range along a continental-continental convergent plate boundary The On-Going Collision of India and Asia Approximately 45 million years ago Paleolatitudes of India (71 million years to present) Modern-Day Tectonic Setting of India Mount Everest, Himalayas Oceanic Lithosphere-Oceanic Lithosphere Divergent Plate Boundary Results in partial melting of underlying ultramafic mantle rock, producing a mafic (basaltic) magma Mafic lavas are erupted on ocean floor, forming new ocean floor basalts Lithospheric plates on either side of the plate boundary mive in opposite directions Off-set segments of the ridge axis are connected by transform faults 10

11 Oceanic Lithosphere-Oceanic Lithosphere Divergent Plate Boundary Continental Lithosphere-Continental Lithosphere Divergent Plate Boundary Continental Rifting Stretching, fracturing and sinking of continental lithosphere forms a continental rift (rift valley) Example: East African Rift Eruption of basaltic lavas and filling with seawater forms a linear sea Examples: Red Sea, Gulf of Aden Widening of linear sea forms an ocean basin East African Rift East African Rift Volcanoes 11

12 Transform Boundaries San Andreas Fault Continental lithospheric plates move laterally past one another Transform fault a fault which connects two off-set segments of a mid-ocean ridge Characterized by frequent earthquake activity Example: San Andreas Fault System Plate Tectonic Boundaries Western North America 50 ma 12

13 Present Cascade Range Sierra Nevada Range and Coast Range Basin and Range Rocky Mountains 13

14 Terrain vs. Terrane Terrane Accretion Formation of Coast Range Terrain the natural features of an area of land; the lay of the land Terrane A crustal fragment whose geologic history is distinct from that of adjoining terranes Accreted Terrane - a terrane accreted to adjoining terranes by tectonic forces Accreted Terranes in Western N. America Formation of Rocky Mountains and Basin and Range Provinces Rocky Mountains Major intraplate mountain system Exhibits evidence of compressive stresses, typical of a convergent plate margin Basin and Range Major intraplate mountain system Exhibits evidence of extensional stresses, typical of a divergent plate margin Rocky Mountains formed due to shallow subduction of oceanic lithosphere beneath western N. America. 14

15 Rocky Mountains Basin and Range formed due to sinking of the subducted lithosphere, allowing for upwelling of hot mantle rock beneath the crust. Basin and Range Rio Grande Rift part of the Basin and Range Rio Grande Rift Rio Grande Rift 15

16 Mantle Plumes Intraplate Volcanism Pacific Ocean Hot Spot Tracks The Driving Force of Plate Tectonics Mantle Convection Heat transfer from Earth s core drives convection currents within the mantle Slab-Pull/Slab-Push Gravity pushes oceanic lithosphere (slabs) away from mid-ocean ridge axes, and pulls slabs into subduction zones Hot Plumes Hot rising plumes of mantle rock drive mantle convection currents Mantle Convection Slab-Pull/Slab-Push 16

17 Hot Plumes Pangaea 200 million years ago The Breakup of Pangaea The Breakup of Pangaea The Breakup of Pangaea The Breakup of Pangaea 17

18 Present-day Tectonic Plate Rates and Directions of Motion Tectonic Setting of Northern Sumatra 18

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