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Section 5
Plate Boundary Environments

In this section you will find materials that support the implementation of EarthComm, Section 5: Plate Boundary Environments.

Learning Through Technology

To learn more about plate boundary environments, complete the following:

Modeling Plate Boundary Environments 

  1. You are now going to use Google Earth to examine the distribution of Earth’s plate boundary environments.  In Section 1, you saved the file “eqs7day-age.” to your computer.  The file contains earthquake location and plate boundary data provided by the United States Geological Survey.  Click on the file and it will open up with Google Earth.

    google earth

  2. In the Google Earth sidebar, switch off (uncheck) the option for displaying “Earthquake Epicenters” and “Plate Boundaries.” 

  3. Activate (check) the “Continental convergent boundary” data.  Using the Google Earth navigation controls, rotate the Earth to view all of the locations for this type of plate boundary.  Switch off (uncheck) the data. 

  4. Examine the locations for each type of boundary listed in the sidebar in the same manner as you did in step 3.

  5. pencil Identify on a world map of lithospheric plates one example of each of the plate boundaries listed in the sidebar.

  6. With your group, select one of the following plate boundary environments:

    • Continental convergent boundary
    • Continental rift boundary
    • Continental transform fault
    • Oceanic convergent boundary
    • Oceanic spreading rift
    • Oceanic transform fault

  7. Develop a model that represents your plate boundary environment. Use the information in the Digging Deeper of Section 5 to help you build your model. Make sure your model demonstrates the movements of lithospheric plates and the surface features they cause.

  8. Share your model with your class.

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Inquiring Further

  1. To learn more about life at hydrothermal vents and mid-ocean ridges, visit the following web sites:

    Black Smokers, American Museum of Natural History
    Learn about black smokers and where they form.  Includes images and information about life forms at hydrothermal deep sea vents.

    Exploring the deep ocean floor: Hot springs and strange creatures, USGS
    Looks at geothermal vent ecosystems.  Contains several photos of the strange creatures which inhabit the far reaches of the ocean floor.

    Dive and Discover, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
    Includes information about the unique geology, chemistry and biology of hydrothermal vents.

    Vents Program, NOAA
    In-depth descriptions of hydrothermal vents and their unique ecosystems where chemical energy nurtures life instead of sunlight.

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To learn more about this topic, visit the following web sites:

Oceanic Trenches

Basic Geology of the Mariana Islands, Volcano World
The subduction of the Philippine plate below the Pacific plate has formed the deepest oceanic trench in the world, the Mariana trench. Read about the geology of this area at this web site. Also has links to the volcanoes which form at this subduction zone.

Volcanoes at Plate Boundaries

Mount St. Helens Volcano, Washington, USGS
Volcanoes formed at subduction zones (convergent plate boundaries) are called composite cone volcanoes.  Learn more about composite cones at this site.

Mount Pinatubo, Philippines, USGS
Volcanoes formed at subduction zones (convergent plate boundaries) are called composite cone volcanoes.  Learn more about composite cones at this site.

Cascade Range Volcanoes and Volcanics, USGS
The Cascade Range in the Western United States represents an example of active subduction volcanism. This site provides an in-depth review of the geologic history of the Cascade volcanoes.

Hot Spots

"Hot spots:" Mantle Thermal Plumes, USGS
Learn more about the geology of the Hawaiian islands as well as other hot spots around the world.

Hawaiian Volcanoes, USGS Hawaii Volcano Observatory
Read about the Hawaiian Volcanoes and how they formed. It also includes links to other pages about specific volcanoes on the islands of Hawaii and Maui.

Hot Spots and Mantle Plumes, Volcano World
View a slide show with color photos and descriptions about the theory of "hot spots." Site also includes a list of sample lesson plans, key concepts, references, and activities about hot spots and the Hawaiian islands.

Mountains at Plate Boundaries

Africa Volcanoes and Volcanics, USGS
Learn more about the East African rift valley, formed when two plates move apart.

Earthquakes and Plate Tectonics

Earthquake Topics - Plate Tectonics, USGS
Explains the distribution of earthquakes around the globe. Includes a review of plate tectonic theory and the four types of seismic zones. Also includes examples of each type of seismic zone.

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