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Plate Tectonics

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Plate tectonics is an earth sciences topic that attracts a good deal of interest, given that it a topic very often featured in popular science programmes on TV and radio. It is a subject that has strong visual appeal. In this 15-hour free course the coverage is self-contained, up to date and is written in a way that will be accessible to those with interest and motivation, all the more so for those who have some pre-existing scientific understanding.

After studying this unit you should be able to demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of:

  • the theory of tectonic plates and the different forms of evidence (e.g. palaeontology, palaeomagnetism, continuity of structures etc.) that can be used to understand the movement of the lithospheric plates over geological time;
  • the mechanisms of crustal growth and transfer of heat at spreading ocean ridges;
  • the three main types of plate boundary (constructive, destructive and conservative) and how they interact at triple junctions;
  • the difference between relative and true plate motion;
  • the driving and retarding forces that influence plate motion at constructive, destructive and conservative plate boundaries.

By: The Open University

  • Duration 15 hours
  • Updated Tuesday 17th April 2012
  • Intermediate level
  • Posted under Geology
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Plate Tectonics


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In this unit, you will examine how the evidence for the movement of continents was gathered and how this movement relates to, and generates, geological features and phenomena such as ocean basins, mountain ranges, volcanoes and earthquakes. You will learn how and why the continents have moved, and continue to move, and the forces that drive them around our globe.

To get the most out of this unit you will need the latest Flash Player plug-in. You can download it here.

This unit is an adapted extract from the Open University course Our dynamic planet: Earth and life (S279) [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

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