Plate Tectonics Vocabulary Notes

Plate Tectonics Vocabulary Notes

October 9 – 23

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Subduction- a geological process in which one edge of a crustal plate is forced sideways and downward into the mantle below another plate

Magma – molten rock in the Earth’s crust

Continent – one of the large landmasses of the Earth

Buoyant – tending to float on a liquid or rise in air or gas

Earthquake: a shaking or movement of Earth’s surface; caused by the release of stored energy along a fault. Earthquakes occur along plate boundaries.

Tectonic plate: One of the slabs that make up Earth’s crust and upper mantle. Some of Earth’s tectonic plates carry continents.

Plate boundary: A place where the plates that make up Earth’s crust and upper mantle either move together or move apart or move past one another.

Theory of continental drift: A theory that states that the continents were a single landmass at one time in the past and have moved over time to their present positions. The theory of continental drift was first suggested by Alfred Wegener.

Theory of plate tectonics: The theory that Earth’s lithosphere is broken into enormous slabs, or plates, that are in motion. Scientists use the theory of plate tectonics to explain how Earth’s continents drift.

Lithosphere: The rigid, rocky outer layer of Earth, including the crust and the solid, top part of the mantle. The lithosphere is about 100 km (60 miles, about the distance from Goldsboro to Raleigh)

Crust: The thin, rocky outer layer of Earth. Under the oceans the crust can be as thin as 10 km (6 miles) and where there are mountains the crust can be as thick as 65 km (40 miles).

Asthenosphere: The region of the mantle just below the lithosphere. It is the upper part of the mantle that is hot, soft (partially melted) and slightly fluid (has plastic like properties and is able to flow).

Mantle: The layer of the Earth between the crust and the core. The mantle is the thickest layer of the Earth (2,900 km or 1,740 miles)


Core: The innermost, densest layer of Earth. The core is made up of two parts, the outer core and the inner core. The outer core is molten and is made up of iron and some less dense material. The inner core is solid and is mostly iron and possibly some nickel.

Convection: The transfer of heat energy through liquids and gases, fluids, by moving particles.

Convection current: The pathway along which energy travels through a fluid.

Convergent boundary: A place where the plates that make up Earth’s crust and upper mantle collide or come together. Layers of rock may bend or break at a convergent boundary.

Divergent boundary: A place where the plates that make up Earth’s crust and upper mantle move away from one another. Most divergent boundaries are found on the ocean floor.

Transform-fault boundary: A place where the plates that make up Earth’s crust and upper mantle move past one another.

Sea floor spreading: The process by which new ocean floor is continually being formed as magma rises to the surface and hardens into rock. Sea-floor spreading occurs as magma fills the space between separating plates.

Mid-ocean ridge: A chain of mountains on the ocean floor. New ocean floor forms at the mid- ocean ridge where the sea floor is spreading.

Pangaea: A supercontinent that existed about 200 million years ago. Pangaea broke apart into several continents

Magma: The hot, molten rock deep inside Earth. Lava: Magma that flows out onto Earth’s surface from a volcano.

Magnetic reversal: The switching or changing of Earth’s magnetic poles such that the north magnetic pole becomes located at the south magnetic pole’s position and vice versa. Scientists have found evidence of magnetic reversals in layers of rock along the ocean floor.

Subduction: The process of moving part of the lithosphere down into the mantle along a convergent boundary.

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