Plate tectonics is a scientific theory that explains the shifting of large pieces of Earth’s outermost layer, called tectonic plates. Plate tectonics describes how these plates move and interact with each other, as well as how they are created and destroyed over time. It explains why certain geological featuressuch as mountains, earthquakes, and volcanoesare found in certain areas. Plate tectonics has improved our understanding of Earth’s surface features, internal formation processes, climate change history, earthquake hazards, volcanic activity and more. Tectonic plates are composed of lithospheric material (the crust and upper part of the mantle) which is divided into several large rigid blocks or plates that move relative to one another on a fluid asthenosphere (a layer within the upper mantle). The motion of these plates results from convection currents within the mantle caused by heat generated within the Earth’s core. These convection currents cause the plates to move at speeds ranging from a few millimeters to tens of centimeters per year in different directions across Earth’s surface. The movement of these lithospheric plates can be divided into three types: divergent boundaries (where two plates separate), convergent boundaries (where two plates come together) and transform boundaries (where two adjacent parts slide past one another without creating or destroying lithosphere). Divergent boundaries occur where new oceanic crust is created by molten material coming up from beneath the surface; convergent boundaries occur when two existing plate collide; transform plate boundary occurs when two adjacent lithospheric plate slip past each other in opposite directions. At divergent boundaries new lithosphere is created which causes volcanic activity on land or sea floor spreading which creates linear valleys undersea along diverging plate margins such as mid-ocean ridges . At convergent margins subduction occurs where one plate slides beneath another causing deformation due to compression including mountain building , deep trenches , volcanism , faulting , folding and earthquakes . Transform boundary is often marked by long narrow strips of intense seismic activity where rocks break apart due to shear forces caused by lateral movement between bordering lithospheric slabs . Plate tectonics have been used to explain many geologic phenomena such as earthquakes associated with fault zones , volcanic eruptions associated with hot spots in thinned areas between colliding continental masses , tsunami waves caused by undersea landslides triggered by strong seismic events , seafloor spreading resulting in plumes rising up through thin oceanic crust at rift zones between moving continents etc. This knowledge has enabled us to better prepare for natural disasters such as tsunamis or volcanic eruptions before they happen helping us save lives around the world .
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