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Plate Tectonics Essay

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Updated: Mar 14th, 2020


The earth’s surface is composed of several plates that are in a constant state of motion. The plates are subjected to tectonic forces that compel them to move in different directions (Garrison, 2009). Generally, there are three major forces that prompt movement of plates on the earth’s crust.

These include transformational, divergent and convergent forces. Convergent forces push the earth’s plates towards each other leading to crashing effect. Transformational forces push the earth’s plates alongside each other while divergent forces tend to pull the plates apart (Gubbins, 1990).

Different features are formed depending on the kind of movements involved. Empirical studies conducted by geologists reveal that these movements result in geological features the earth’s surface. Resultant features include earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and mountain formation (Garrison, 2009).

Location of converging plates

When plates are pushed towards each other, they are eventually deformed. Additionally, certain features such as mountains and island arcs are generated (Gubbins, 1990). However, resultant features depend on which plates converge.

For instance, when two continental plates drift toward each other, they form a mountain as opposed to the case when continental and an oceanic plate converges. In this case, the two different plates form an island where the heavier continental plate lands on the oceanic plate (Garrison, 2009).

For instance, where there are volcanic eruptions during the convergence of the plates, magma solidifies on top of the oceanic crust to form a hard surface on the ocean. An example of a place commonly known for this incidence is American continent whereby the South American plate converged with Nazca plate to form Andes Mountain which is located in Chain (Garrison, 2009).

Moreover, it is evident that Tibet plateau in Asia was formed as a result of convergent tectonic forces. The feature resulted when the Indian plate slowly converged with the Asian plate. The oceanic crust between the two continental plates was submerged under them (Gubbins, 1990). Further evidence reveals that more convergence between the oceanic plates resulted into formation of Himalayas Mountain.

Location of diverging plates

Divergent tectonic forces triggered plates to pull away from each other resulting into formation of a new continental crust (Garrison, 2009. Mostly, this occurs where two oceanic plates diverge giving rise to a continental crust being formed at the middle (Cox & Hart, 1986).

A good example of features resulting from divergence includes the Ethiopian highlands in Eastern Africa and ridges formed in the mid-Atlantic. It is evident that due to tectonic forces, the Atlantic Ocean is widening slowly at an approximated length of 2 cm in a year (Garrison, 2009).

The location where tectonic plates slide along each other

In most cases, earth’s plates slip sideways alongside each other. This causes friction; thus there is an accumulation of intense pressure. There is a sudden release of the pressure being built up resulting in earth tremors (Cox & Hart, 1986). Though this transformational activity does not lead to the formation of spectacular features, faulting is a common occurrence.

For example, the San Andreas Fault was formed as a result of lateral slipping of earth plates. As mentioned earlier, earthquakes have been experienced in San Francisco during the 19th century (Garrison, 2009). These were believed to have been triggered by faulting in San Andreas. To date, there have been subsequent occurrences of earthquakes in the zone since the incidence.


To recap it all, it is imperative to reiterate that plate tectonic theory attempts to expound why certain conspicuous features are observed on the earth’s surface. Such features include volcanoes, faults, islands, ridges, plateaus, an earthquake.

It is also evident that the earth’s plates are usually subjected to three tectonic forces namely divergence, convergence and transformational forces. Through these forces, the plates tend to move in different directions thus resulting in different features. Scientists have for a long time, associated geological activities on the earth’s surface with movements in tectonic plates.


Cox, A. & Hart, R. (1986). Plate tectonics: how it works. California: Blackwell Publishing, Inc.

Garrison, T. (2009). Essentials of Oceanography. California: Cengage Learning.

Gubbins, D. (1990).Seismology and plate tectonics. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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