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published by the United States Geologic Survey
Visit this site, from the U.S. Geological Survey, for an introduction to the motions of tectonic plates.  You'll find descriptions of each of the four types of plate boundaries along with illustrations of the motions associated with each.  The site also shows examples of each type of boundary, such as the San Andreas Fault in California.
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Additional Information
Physics To Go This resource was a Physics To Go feature from June 1, 2008 until June 16, 2008. View the feature here!

Access Rights: Free access
Restriction: Does not have a copyright, license, or other use restriction.
Images are copyright of the photographer.
Keywords: boundary, earthquake, fault, plate, plate tectonics, subduction, tectonic
Record Creator: Metadata instance created April 26, 2007 by Ann Deml
Record Updated: Aug 19, 2020 by Lyle Barbato
Last Update
when Cataloged:
May 5, 1999
Other Collections:

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

4. The Physical Setting

4C. Processes that Shape the Earth
  • 6-8: 4C/M2a. Some changes in the earth's surface are abrupt (such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions) while other changes happen very slowly (such as uplift and wearing down of mountains).
  • 6-8: 4C/M11. The outer layer of the earth—including both the continents and the ocean basins—consists of separate plates.
  • 6-8: 4C/M12. The earth's plates sit on a dense, hot, somewhat melted layer of the earth. The plates move very slowly, pressing against one another in some places and pulling apart in other places, sometimes scraping alongside each other as they do. Mountains form as two continental plates, or an ocean plate and a continental plate, press together.
  • 9-12: 4C/H3. The outward transfer of the earth's internal heat causes regions of different temperatures and densities. The action of a gravitational force on regions of different densities causes the rise and fall of material between the earth's surface and interior, which is responsible for the movement of plates.
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AIP Format
(United States Geologic Survey, Sioux Falls, 1999), WWW Document, (
Understanding Plate Motions, (United States Geologic Survey, Sioux Falls, 1999), <>.
APA Format
Understanding Plate Motions. (1999, May 5). Retrieved December 6, 2021, from United States Geologic Survey:
Chicago Format
United States Geologic Survey. Understanding Plate Motions. Sioux Falls: United States Geologic Survey, May 5, 1999. (accessed 6 December 2021).
MLA Format
Understanding Plate Motions. Sioux Falls: United States Geologic Survey, 1999. 5 May 1999. 6 Dec. 2021 <>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {Understanding Plate Motions}, Publisher = {United States Geologic Survey}, Volume = {2021}, Number = {6 December 2021}, Month = {May 5, 1999}, Year = {1999} }
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%T Understanding Plate Motions %D May 5, 1999 %I United States Geologic Survey %C Sioux Falls %U %O text/html

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%0 Electronic Source %D May 5, 1999 %T Understanding Plate Motions %I United States Geologic Survey %V 2021 %N 6 December 2021 %8 May 5, 1999 %9 text/html %U

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