Skip to main content


Chapter 2

Plate Tectonics


Section Learning Outcomes
Section 1
  • Search, describe, and account for patterns in the global distribution of volcanoes and earthquakes.
  • Find the latitude and longitude of volcanoes and past earthquakes nearest to your community.
  • Make inferences about possible locations of future volcanic and earthquake activity.
  • Describe the interior structure of Earth.
  • Connect volcanoes and earthquakes with the theory of plate tectonics.
Section 2
  • Determine the direction and rate of movement of plates, using data from the Global Positioning System.
  • Recognize that the rate and direction of plate motion is not necessarily constant.
Section 3
  • Calculate the density of liquids and compare their densities with their position in a column of liquid.
  • Observe the effects of temperature on the density of a material.
  • Examine a model of natural heat flow from within Earth.
  • Identify the results of uneven heating within Earth.
  • Identify the causes of the movement of lithospheric plates.
Section 4
  • Run a model of a plate moving beneath another plate (subduction).
  • Describe several lines of evidence for plate motion.
  • Classify and label the types of movement at plate boundaries using a world map that shows relative plate motion.
  • Identify the distribution of plates by means of the world map of relative plate motions.
  • Describe the present plate tectonic setting of your community.
Section 5
  •  Describe the location, nature, and cause of volcanic arcs in terms of plate tectonics.
  • Describe the location, nature, and cause of hot spots.
  • Explain how plate tectonic processes have caused continents to grow through geologic time.
  • Explain how plate tectonic processes produce major landforms.
Section 6
  • Use several present-day distributions of minerals, rock formations, and fossils to help figure out the distribution of continents.
  • Construct a map showing the position of continents 250 million years ago by reversing the present direction of plate motion.
  • Recognize a convergence of presently widely scattered minerals, rock formations, and fossils when all the continents were part of Pangea.
  • Describe the context in which the hypothesis of continental drift was proposed and why it was subject to criticism.
  • Show that your community has moved through different ecological regions over time.
Section 7
  • Draw a topographic map from a model.
  • Explore the meanings of contour line, contour interval, and relief.
  • Interpret topographic maps.
  • Recognize volcanic landforms on a topographic map and predict where lava would flow on them.
  • Identify basic relationships between magma composition and type of volcano formed.
Section 8
  • Measure and understand how volume, temperature, slope, and channelization affect the flow of fluid.
  • Apply an understanding of factors that control lava flows, pyroclastic flows, and lahars (mudflows).
  • Apply understanding of topographic maps to predict lahar flow (mudflow) patterns from a given set of data.
  • Describe volcanic hazards associated with various kinds of flows.
  • Become aware of the benefits of Earth science information in planning evacuations and making decisions.
  • Show understanding of the nature of science and a controlled experiment.
Section 9
  • Interpret maps and graph data from volcanic eruptions to understand the range in scale of volcanic eruptions.
  • Measure the amount of dissolved gas in a carbonated beverage.
  • Understand that volcanoes emit rock, lava, and gases, such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide.
  • Describe how volcanoes are part of the hydrosphere and water cycle.
  • Demonstrate awareness of how volcanoes can affect global temperatures.
  • Recognize that volcanoes are part of interactive systems on Earth.
Section 10
  • Generate and describe two types of seismic waves.
  • Determine the relative speeds of compressional and shear waves.
  • Simulate some of the motions associated with earthquakes.
  • Infer the origin of earthquakes and the mechanism of transfer of seismic wave energy.
Section 11
  • Construct a simple seismometer.
  • Record motion in two dimensions and also within a fixed time frame.
  • Understand how seismometers record earthquake waves.
  • Recognize P waves, S waves, and surface waves on seismograms.
  • Read a graph to determine the distance to the earthquake epicenter.
Section 12
  • Rank the effects of earthquakes.
  • Map the intensity of earthquakes.
  • Interpret a map of earthquake intensity to infer the general location of the epicenter.
  • Identify geologic materials that pose special problems during earthquakes.
  • Explain how the magnitude of an earthquake is determined.

Use the navigation on the left to find materials that support the relevant sections of this chapter.