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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.
- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 Preamble: the moving Earth
- 2 From continental drift to plate tectonics
- 2.1 Continental drift
- 2.2 Evidence for continental drift
- 2.3 Sea-floor spreading
- 3 The theory of plate tectonics
- 3.1 Assumptions
- 3.2 Heat flow within plates
- 3.3 Constructive plate boundaries
- 3.4 Destructive plate boundaries
- 3.5 Destructive plate boundaries, continued: ocean-ocean (island-arc) subduction
- 3.6 Destructive plate boundaries, continued: ocean-continent (Andean type) subduction
- 3.7 Destructive plate boundaries, continued: continent-continent destructive boundaries
- 3.8 Conservative plate boundaries and transform faults
- 3.9 Triple junctions
- 4 Plate tectonic motion
- 5 Plate driving forces
- 5.1 Why do plates move?
- 5.2 Forces acting upon lithospheric plates
- 5.6 Implications of plate tectonics
- 5.7 Summary
- 5.8 Further reading
- Keep on learning
Study this free course
Enrol to access the full course, get recognition for the skills you learn, track your progress and on completion gain a statement of participation to demonstrate your learning to others. Make your learning visible!
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
This free course includes adapted extracts from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free Geology courses or view the range of currently available OU Geology courses.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Thursday, 2nd June 2011
Last updated on: Tuesday, 17th April 2012
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements and our FAQs section.
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