Science - 2017-18

ES.7 b - Plate Tectonics

The student will investigate and understand geologic processes including plate tectonics. Key concepts include
b) tectonic processes.

Bloom's Levels:  Analyze; Understand

Adopted: 2010


  • The movement of Earth's lithospheric plates causes both slow and rapid changes in the earth's surface.

  • I can predict whether my home will be subject to earthquakes.


  • Virginia has a billion-year-long tectonic and geologic history.
  • Virginia has five physiographic provinces produced by past episodes of tectonic activity and continuous geologic activity.
  • Plate motion occurs as a consequence of convection in Earth’s mantle, including upwelling of material from the deep mantle in rift zones, the lateral movement of tectonic plates, and the sinking dense, old plates at subduction zones. 
  • Weathering, erosion, and deposition are interrelated processes. Weathering is the process by which rocks are broken down chemically and physically by the action of water, air, and organisms. Erosion is the process by which Earth materials are physically incorporated by moving water, ice, or wind for transportation. Deposition is the process by which Earth materials carried by wind, water, or ice settle out and are left in a location when energy levels decrease. The size of the material deposited is proportional to the available energy of the medium of transport. 
  • Relative plate motions and plate boundaries are convergent (subduction and continental collision), divergent (seafloor spreading), or transform. Major features of convergent boundaries include collision zones (folded and thrust-faulted mountains) and subduction zones (volcanoes and trenches). Major features of divergent boundaries include mid-ocean ridges, rift valleys, fissure volcanoes, and flood lavas. Major features of transform boundaries include strike-slip faults. 
  • Earthquake activity of varying energy levels and depths is associated with all plate boundaries. 
  • A volcano is an opening where magma erupts onto Earth’s surface. Most volcanic activity is associated with subduction, rifting, or seafloor spreading. Hot spot volcanic activity, such as volcanic islands, is exceptional in that it is not related to plate boundaries but derived from a deep, localized heat source. 
  • A fault is a break or crack in Earth’s crust along which movement has occurred. 
  • Plate tectonic processes serve as the major driver of the rock cycle. Plate tectonics drive the evolution of Earth’s surface features and materials by fractionating material by chemical, mineralogic, and physical properties. Continental drift is a consequence of plate tectonics. 


In order to meet this standard, it is expected that students will

b) integrate and interpret the rock cycle, plate tectonics, and Virginia’s geology in an interacting diagram. 

     analyze how multiple continental collisions and rifting events over the last billion years have created the current physiography of Virginia.

     comprehend and apply the details of Plate Tectonics Theory to the formation of continents, mountain chains, island arcs, deep open trenches, earthquake zones, and continental and midocean volcanism. 

     analyze the composition and structure of the continental and oceanic lithosphere in terms of topographic features, density, thickness, and rates of motion.

     compare and contrast different types of current and ancient plate boundaries (i.e., Japan, California, New Madrid, Missouri, the Appalachian system, Iceland, and Tonga).

     analyze how seismic waves provide evidence of the structure of the deep Earth including the inner and outer core in terms of composition, density, and viscosity.

     analyze the body of evidence for Plate Tectonics Theory (i.e., seafloor age, magnetic information, seismic profiles, laser-measured motion studies, fossil evidence, rock types associated with particular tectonic environments).

     analyze the various structures produced in convergent plate boundaries. 

     offer interpretations of the tectonic history of an area based on the range and type of rocks found in that area.

     compare and contrast the tectonic activity of the east coast and the west coast of North America.


asthenosphere, convergent boundary, continental crust, continental drift theory, core, crust, differentiation, divergent boundary, Hess, inner core, island arc, lithosphere, magma chamber, mantle, mid-ocean ridge, oceanic crust, outer core, Pangaea, Panthalassa, plate tectonics, plates, rift valley, sea floor spreading, SONAR, subduction, subplates, transform fault boundary, trench, Tuzo Wilson, Wegener

Updated: Nov 28, 2017