Why It Matters: Plate Tectonics

Recognize the ongoing development of, evidence for, and large scale planetary effects of the Theory of Plate Tectonics.


Plate tectonics is often seen as the missing piece of the puzzle for geologists. Plate tectonics explains, either directly or indirectly, just about every topic discussed in geology. It is the glue that binds everything together. Before plate tectonics, geologists had no explanation for these (and other) questions:

  1. What causes the tectonic plates to move the way they do?
  2. Why is the oceanic crust younger than continental crust?
  3. Why do the continents look the way they do, like puzzle pieces or are positioned as they are?
  4. Why are Japan and California so prone to earthquakes and volcanoes?
  5. How did the Himalayas form?
  6. Why do we find evidence of aquatic species at the very top of the Himalayas and other mountainous areas?
  7. How do mountains form?
  8. Why do the oceans look the way they do?
  9. What factors contributed to the occurrence of the ice ages?
  10. Why the same species can be found on continents on opposite sides of the oceans?

As you move through this section, keep in mind all of these questions and make note of any other impacts the Theory of Plate Tectonics has had on the field of geology.

Learning Outcomes

  • Describe Continental Drift including supporting evidence.
  • Critique and interpret major types of evidence supporting the Theory of Plate Tectonics.
  • Describe different geological processes in relation to plate tectonics.


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