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Earth Science for Kids

Plate Tectonics

A Land in Motion

Although we think of the land on Earth as being fixed and stable, it turns out that it is constantly moving. This movement is way too slow for us to notice, however, because it only moves between one to 6 inches per year. It takes millions of years for the land to move a significant amount.

The Lithosphere

The part of the land that is moving is the Earth's surface called the lithosphere. The lithosphere is made up of the Earth's crust and a part of the upper mantle. The lithosphere moves in big chunks of land called tectonic plates. Some of these plates are huge and cover entire continents.

Major and Minor Tectonic Plates

Most of the Earth is covered by seven major plates and another eight or so minor plates. The seven major plates include the African, Antarctic, Eurasian, North American, South American, India-Australian, and the Pacific plates. Some of the minor plates include the Arabian, Caribbean, Nazca, and Scotia plates.

Here is a picture showing the major tectonic plates of the world.

Click on the picture to see a larger view

Continents and Oceans

Tectonic plates are around 62 miles thick. There are two main types of tectonic plates: oceanic and continental.
  • Oceanic - Oceanic plates consist of an oceanic crust called "sima". Sima is made up primarily of silicon and magnesium (which is where it gets its name).
  • Continental - Continental plates consist of a continental crust called "sial". Sial is made up primarily of silicon and aluminum.
Plate Boundaries

The movement of tectonic plates is most evident at the boundaries between the plates. There are three main types of boundaries:
  • Convergent Boundaries - A convergent boundary is where two tectonic plates push together. Sometimes one plate will move under the other. This is called subduction. Although the movement is slow, convergent boundaries can be areas of geological activity such as the forming of mountains and volcanoes. They can also be areas of high earthquake activity.

  • Tectonic plate convergence

  • Divergent Boundaries - A divergent boundary is one where two plates are getting pushed apart. The area on land where the boundary occurs is called a rift. New land is formed by magma pushing up from the mantle and cooling as it reaches the surface.

  • Transform Boundaries - A transform boundary is one where two plates slide past each other. These places are often called faults and can be areas where earthquakes often occur.
Interesting Facts about Plate Tectonics
  • One famous transform boundary is the San Andreas Fault in California. It is the boundary between the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate. It is the cause of so many earthquakes in California.
  • The Mariana Trench is the deepest part of the ocean. It is formed by a convergent boundary between the Pacific Plate and the Mariana Plate. The Pacific Plate is being subducted under the Mariana Plate.
  • Scientists are now able to track the movement of tectonic plates using GPS.
  • The Himalayan Mountains, including Mount Everest, were formed by the convergent boundary of the Indian Plate and the Eurasian Plate.

Earth Science Subjects

Composition of the Earth
Plate Tectonics
Soil Science
The Water Cycle
Geology Glossary and Terms

Nutrient Cycles
Food Chain and Web
Carbon Cycle
Oxygen Cycle
Water Cycle
Nitrogen Cycle
Atmosphere and Weather
Dangerous Weather
Weather Forecasting
Weather Glossary and Terms

World Biomes
Biomes and Ecosystems
Tropical Rainforest
Temperate Forest
Taiga Forest
Coral Reef
Environmental Issues
Land Pollution
Air Pollution
Water Pollution
Ozone Layer
Global Warming

Renewable Energy Sources
Renewable Energy
Biomass Energy
Geothermal Energy
Solar Power
Wave and Tidal Energy
Wind Power

Ocean Waves and Currents
Ocean Tides
Ice Age
Forest Fires
Phases of the Moon

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