The Earth’s lithosphere is made up of a series of plates that float on the mantle. Scientists think the convection of the mantle causes these plates to move, triggering earthquakes, volcanoes, mountain-building events, or trench formation. These plates creep along at a rate of approximately five to ten centimeters (two to four inches) per year. 

These plates move in primarily three main ways. They slide past one another along transform (strike-slip) boundaries, they push against each other at convergent boundaries, or pull away in opposite directions at divergent boundaries. Each one of these interactions creates different types of landforms. For example, the steady pressure of the Indian Plate and the Eurasian Plate built the Himalaya mountains and the Plateau of Tibet. The divergent boundary between the African Plate and the Arabian Plate formed the Red Sea.

Use this plate boundary map layer to explore how the movement of the plates causes earthquakes, volcanoes, or shapes Earth’s landscape.


Try the Layer


Use this Map Layer in the Classroom

Tectonic Plates and Physical Features: In this activity, students will analyze maps of tectonic plates to predict the location of physical features.

convection
Noun

transfer of heat by the movement of the heated parts of a liquid or gas.

convergent plate boundary
Noun

area where two or more tectonic plates bump into each other. Also called a collision zone.

divergent boundary
Noun

area where two or more tectonic plates are moving away from each other. Also called an extensional boundary.

earthquake
Noun

the sudden shaking of Earth's crust caused by the release of energy along fault lines or from volcanic activity.

Noun

specific natural feature on the Earth's surface.

Noun

the geographic features of a region.

Noun

outer, solid portion of the Earth. Also called the geosphere.

Noun

middle layer of the Earth, made of mostly solid rock.

tectonic plate
Noun

massive slab of solid rock made up of Earth's lithosphere (crust and upper mantle). Also called lithospheric plate.

transform boundary
Noun

site of tectonic plates sliding next to each other in opposite directions. Also called a transform fault.

trench
Noun

long, deep depression, either natural or man-made.

Noun

an opening in the Earth's crust, through which lava, ash, and gases erupt, and also the cone built by eruptions.