Plate Tectonics

Introduction to Tectonics: Plates, Faults, and Earthquakes

Do you know what can crack a rock? An earthquake! Today the scientists brought in some models of faults, which are fractures or breaks in rock where the two sides of the break have moved past each other. Faults develop over thousands of years as the earth’s solid tectonic plates float around and drift. We learned that there are different kinds of faults: Normal, Reverse, and Strike-Slip. The faults are defined by the direction the rocks move relative to the fault – ask your student to explain the differences.

We also talked about the difference between an earthquake and continental drift. Earthquakes are the fast movement that comes from a release of energy when two plates that get stuck while moving past each other suddenly release. The shape of continents and mountains also result from tectonic plates moving and crashing into each other, but in their case the changes happen slowly over millions of years. In fact, the Himalayan mountain range started forming when the India plate crashed into the Eurasian plate about 45 million years ago, and it is still growing about 1 cm/year today!

Introducción a la Tectónica: Placas, Fallas y Terremotos

¿Sabes lo qué puede romper una roca? ¡Un terremoto! Hoy los científicos trajeron distintos modelos de fallas, éstas son fracturas en el terreno a lo largo de las cuales hubo movimiento de uno de los lados respecto del otro. Las fallas se desarrollan durante miles de años mientras que las placas tectónicas de la Tierra flotan y se desplazan. Aprendimos que existen distintos tipos de fallas: normal, inversa y de desgarre. Las fallas se definen por la dirección en que las rocas se mueven en relación a la falla: pídale a su hijo o hija que le explique las diferencias.

También hablamos sobre las diferencias entre los terremotos y la deriva continental. El terremoto es un fenómeno de movimiento brusco y pasajero producido por la liberación súbita de energía almacenada entre dos placas tectónicas adyacentes. La forma de los continentes y las montañas también es el resultado del movimiento y choque de las placas tectónicas, pero en este caso, los cambios ocurren lentamente a lo largo de millones de años. Por ejemplo, el cordón montañoso de los Himalayas comenzó a formarse cuando la placa India chocó con la placa Euroasiática alrededor de 45 millones de años atrás, ¡y hasta el día de hoy sigue creciendo 1 cm por año!


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Phillip has a BS and MS in Biology from Western Washington University, and is currently earning a PhD in Environmental Studies at Antioch University New England. His research interests are in tropical rainforest ecology and animal-plant interactions. He will be doing his doctoral dissertation research on tropical seed dispersal ecology in the montane rainforests of Rwanda. Phillip has taught though various adjunct positions at several colleges in New England, teaching biology, ecology, earth science, environmental science, and general science at Babson College, North Shore Community College, Wheelock College, Merrimack College, and Mount Ida College.

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