PLATE TECTONICS SUMMARY
The Earth's crust is broken up into pieces called plates. Heat rising and falling inside the mantle creates convection currents generated by radioactive decay in the core. The convection currents move the plates. Where convection currents diverge near the Earth's crust, plates move apart. Where convection currents converge, plates move towards each other. The movement of the plates, and the activity inside the Earth, is called plate tectonics.
Plate tectonics cause earthquakes and volcanoes. The point where two plates meet is called a plate boundary. Earthquakes and volcanoes are most likely to occur either on or near plate boundaries.
The Earth's plates move in different directions.
Different plate boundaries
- At a tensional, constructive or divergent boundary the plates move apart. As the plates move apart (very slowly), magma rises from the mantle and erupts to the surface of the Earth, normally accompanied by earthquakes. When the magma reaches the surface, it cools and solidifies to form a new crust of igneous rock. This process is repeated many times, over a long period of time. Eventually the new rock builds up to form a volcano.
Constructive boundaries tend to be found under the sea, eg the Mid Atlantic Ridge. Here, chains of underwater volcanoes have formed along the plate boundary. One of these volcanoes may become so large that it erupts out of the sea to form a volcanic island.
- At a compressional, destructive or convergent boundary the plates move towards each other. This usually involves a continental plate and an oceanic plate. The oceanic plate is denser than the continental plate so, as they move together, the oceanic plate is forced underneath the continental plate. The point at which this happens is called the subduction zone. As the oceanic plate is forced below the continental plate it melts to form magma and earthquakes are triggered. The magma collects to form a magma chamber. This magma then rises up through cracks in the continental crust. As pressure builds up, a volcanic eruption may occur.
- At a conservative or transform boundary the plates slide past each other.