Plate Tectonics. Continental Drift

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1 Plate Tectonics Introduction Predecessor of plate tectonics: Continental drift hypothesis What is the theory of plate tectonics? What is a plate? How do we find their edges? How many plates are there? Why is plate tectonics important? Types of relative plate movements (and related stresses) Types of plate boundaries Plate boundaries and earthquake depths Measuring plate motions Why do plates move? 1 Continental Drift In 1912, Alfred Lothar Wegener ( ), a German meteorologist, published the hypothesis of continental drift with multiple lines of evidence to back it up. Wegener proposed that all of the continents were once joined together as one supercontinent that he called Pangea. 2 News, articles, etc. on Plate Tectonics Fossil evidence for once joined continents 3 Later studies have allowed the positions of the continents at different times in Earth history to be determined, and have documented the breakup of Pangea. 4 Related puzzle activity: Plate Tectonics Today, we know that it isn t just the continents that have moved. Rather, the Earth s surface is broken into pieces of continental and/or ocean crust called plates. Plate tectonics deals with the nature of these plates, what happens at their boundaries, how and why they move, etc. 5 6 Plate tectonics also explains the locations of earthquake faults, volcanoes, and major mountain ranges. Photos from: This Dynamic Earth (USGS) and Understanding Earth Fig Understanding Earth 1

2 Patterns in the locations of earthquakes and volcanoes Active continental margins (plate boundary) vs. Passive continental margins (no plate boundary) The western margin of North America is an active area with earthquakes (yellow) and volcanic activity (red). In contrast, the eastern margin of North America is a quiet passive area with no active volcanoes and few earthquakes. We now know that the active zones coincide with the boundaries between plates (blue). USGS The discovery of extensive ocean ridges and young ages for the ocean floor (in the 1940s and 1950s) provided another important clue. 8 Pioneering woman who mapped the ocean floor Marie Tharp, Pioneering Mapmaker of the Ocean Floor Sea floor magnetism was a key part of mapping ocean floor age and figuring out the processes responsible for the pattern 9 10 Zones of progressively deeper earthquakes revealed the existence of subduction. This led to an understanding of how ocean crust is recycled at ocean trenches. Geology 2 nd ed. - Chernicoff What is a plate? The brittle outer part of the earth (crust and uppermost mantle) is called the lithosphere. The lithosphere is broken into plates that move on the asthenosphere, a part of the mantle which is plastic (able to flow). 11 Types of relative plate movements and boundaries and related stresses and fault types 12 Compression Extension Normal faults Stretching and thinning Reverse and thrust faults Folding Shear Strike-slip faults Shearing 2

3 13 The mid-ocean ridge (shown in red) winds its way between the continents much like the seam on a baseball 14 Fig Understanding Earth 15 Continental Rifting 16 Mid-Atlantic Ridge at Iceland East African Rift Africa 1 Fig Understanding Earth 18 Geology 2 nd ed. - Chernicoff (originally from Bullard, 1969, The Origin of the Continents: Scientific American) SOUTH East African Rift Gulf of Aden Continental rifting: The Afar Triangle Photo from Space Shuttle: STS NASA Red Sea Next: 20-Plate Divergence.mov (Red Sea rift) 3

4 19 Transform plate boundary San Andreas fault, California 20 Transform Boundaries Fig Understanding Earth Ocean-ocean convergent boundary Japan, an example of an oceanic island arc Photo from Space Shuttle: STS NASA Ocean-continent convergent boundary Intrusive igneous rocks formed along an ancient volcanic arc: Part of the Sierra-Nevada batholith in Yosemite National Park (Charles Darwin witnessed 1895 Chilean quake, deduced that the Andes required millions of years to build) Next: 20-Ocean-Continent.mov (Andean subduction zone) 4

5 ap based on widely available dataset ETOPO5 Continent-continent convergent boundary 25 Formation of the highest mountains on earth by continent-continent collision 26 Next: 20-Continent-Continent.mov (India-Asia collision zone) PT Summary: Plate boundaries and earthquake depths All types of plate boundaries can produce shallow earthquakes. The deepest earthquakes (and some of the largest earthquakes) occur in subduction zones. 28 Fig Chernicoff - Geology Measuring plate motions - using hot spots 29 Hotspots and plate movements 30 dia.pearsoncmg.com/bc/bc_0media_geo/active_art/hdew_2e.html?hotspot12 Map of part of the Pacific ocean floor showing the 6,000-km-long Hawaiian Ridge-Emperor Seamounts chain This volcanic trail of the Hawaiian hotspot could be related to a mantle plume Hot spots and the opening of the south Atlantic Ocean Geology 2 nd ed. - Chernicoff 5

6 Measuring plate motions - using sea floor age 31 How do we know plates move today? From Earthquakes, GPS, VLBI, & SLR How we know: 32 NASA GPS Time Series plate movements: GPS time series: More GPS Fig Understanding Earth A GPS ground receiver at Augustine Volcano (Cook Inlet, Alaska) recording signals sent by GPS satellites. Artist's conception of a Global Positioning System satellite in orbit shown in inset. Source: USGS Major plate boundaries and their rates of movement Fig Understanding Earth Since 1994, Australia has moved about 5 feet! Projected future positions of the continents million years from now: If current plate movements continue unchanged, part of California will become an island off the coast of Washington, the Mediterranean Sea may close, and eastern Africa may become an island. Geology 2 nd ed. - Chernicoff Plate Tectonics: Why do plates move? The general scientific consensus is that plate movements are related to convection. Convection in the Earth results from the escape of heat from the interior and involves the pull of gravity on rocks of different densities. Best fit to evidence for major force causing plate movements Suggested mechanisms to drive plate motions Doesn t match rates of movement Essentially, colder, more dense rocks sink while hotter, less dense rocks rise. Fig Understanding Earth Partly true, but convection not as organized as this Fig Understanding Earth Deep plumes exist, but are not a major cause of plate movements 6

7 9 8 Slab pull probably the most important driver of plate movements - cold, relatively dense lithosphere is pulled downward at subduction zones and pulls the rest of the plate along behind it Not only do subducting plates sink, the boundary can also roll back over time. This causes the subduction zone to pull on both plates. Time C of trench In itia l p o s itio n 11 Subduction via trennchward motion and rollback Note need asthe sprea acco beyo Image source: This Dynamic Earth USGS ossible modes of behavior of oceanic lithosphere t convergent ate boundaries Image source: Plate boundary locations change over time ck of trench New sea floor made at spreading ridge Subduction Rollback with rollback pulls on plates Rollback Rollback Compression of continent because ofsubduction travels with west-moving plate. New sea floor made mid-ocean ridge position of y throughout the sequence of sketches. Image source: Subduction of an ocean ridge led to formation of the San Andreas fault Subduction of an ocean ridge led to formation of the San Andreas fault 41 This Dynamic Earth - U.S. Geological Survey Paleomap Project - Continent locations of the past, present and future. Plate Tectonics - U.S.G.S. Cascades Volcano Observatory 42 What is Plate Tectonics? USGS and National Park Service Plate Tectonics Animations USGS and National Park Service

8 Plate Tectonics 43 How we know plates move GPS, VLBI, etc. NASA Space Geodesy Project What is VLBI? Digital Tectonic Activity Map (combines topography, plate boundaries, movements, etc.) Wegener's Puzzling Evidence Exercise (6th Grade Activity) CT scan of Earth links deep mantle plumes with volcanic hotspots 8

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