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DYNAMICS OF PLATE TECTONICS-Questions are highlighted yellow, directions are highlighted green

Introduction: Plate Tectonics

The theory of plate tectonics indicates that earth's surface sits on a large floating island of rock. Although it
feels solid and hard beneath our feet, the outer surface of the Earth is a thin crust of fragile rock, fractured like
the cracked shell of an egg. The pieces of the shell are Earth's tectonic plates -- there are 12 major ones -- and
they float across a layer of soft rock like rafts in a stream, their motions driven by forces generated deep in the
Earth. At their boundaries, the plates spread apart, converge, and slide past one another. Access the following
link to read and observe the most common plate boundaries that occur as a result of tectonic plate theory. Then,
access the link below it to experiment with the phenomena.

What is tectonic plate theory? Identify and describe the major types of plate boundaries indicating causes and

Introduction: Earthquakes & Seismograms

Most earthquakes happen near the boundaries of tectonic plates, both where the plates spread apart and where
they crunch or grind together (although large temblors also strike from time to time in the normally stable
interior of continents). Along plate boundaries, the brittle outer part of the Earth fractures along faults. As
plates move, blocks of crust shift along the faults. The infamous San Andreas fault is not a single crack where
the North American and Pacific plates slide past each other. It's the largest of a thicket of faults that collectively
absorb the motion of the plates.

A typical earthquake sends out at least three types of waves.

These waves travel differently in the earth and make different
patterns on the seismogram, a read-out from a sensitive
detecting instrument called a seismometer measuring
tectonic activity. These are quite useful in detecting the
epicenter or the location on the surface of the earth directly
above the focus of an earthquake.

Following an earthquake, the body waves strike first. The

fastest kind are the primary waves, or P-waves. People often
report a sound like a train just before they feel a quake, which
is the P-wave moving as an acoustic wave in the air. Then
the secondary, or S-waves, arrive. A person in a building
perceives the arrival of S-waves as a sudden powerful jolt, as if a giant has pounded his fist down on the roof.
Finally, the surface waves strike. In very strong earthquakes, the up-and-down and back-and-forth motions
caused by surface waves can make the ground appear to roll like the surface of the ocean, and can literally
topple buildings over. The L-waves or surface waves usually cause the most damage.

Look at the websites below:

What is seismology?

What are seismic waves?

Name the 2 main types of seismic waves.

Which type of waves travel through the interior of the earth?

Differentiate between P waves and S waves below.

P waves S waves

Click where it says “click here” to see a demonstration of a P wave in action. Describe how the P wave moves?

Click where it says “click here” to see a demonstration of an S wave in action. Describe how the S wave moves.

Explain why the P waves show up first before the S waves.

Are surface waves of higher or lower frequency than body waves?

Where are surface waves located?

Which type of waves, body or surface causes most of the damage associated with earthquakes?
Click where is says “Click here” to see a demonstration of a Love wave in action. Describe its motion.

Click where it says “Click here” to see a demonstration of a Rayleigh wave in action. Describe its motion.

Which type of wave causes most of the shaking felt from an earthquake?

Now, log on to

• Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on Execute Virtual Earthquake
• Read the information carefully and answer the following questions

Why do earthquakes occur?

Where, in general, do most earthquakes occur?

What do you call the point of origin of a seismic wave?

How are seismic waves measured?

How fast do P waves travel?

How fast do S waves travel?

• Choose a region for your earthquake to take place.

a. San Francisco Area
b. Southern California
c. Japan Area
d. Mexico
• Click Submit Choice
• Carefully read the information and look at the map
• Click View Seismograph

• You will be given 3 seismographs from 3 different locations because it takes 3 locations to triangulate
the epicenter. Using the previous information and example, CAREFULLY and ACCURATELY
calculate the time in seconds between the S and P wave for each of the 3 graphs. You will input your
times under each graph.
• Click Convert S-P Interval.
• Read the section on Determining the Earthquake Distance and study the distance vs. time graph for
the S and P waves.
• Use the S-P graph to calculate the epicentral distance in KM. The chart will tell you the times you
previously calculated. For each location, find the time on the y-axis and find the distance that
correlates with it to intersect the graph.
• Click Find Epicenter.
• If you have read the graphs correctly, it will tell you that you did an excellent job and will show you
where the real epicenter is located. If you did NOT read the graphs correctly, it is going to say
“Oops” and tell you to Re-measure.
• Once you get the three circles to intersect to find the epicenter, click on Compute Richter and
answer the following questions:

What scale is used to measure the strength of an earthquake?

What do we mean by “magnitude” in reference to earthquakes?

What is the Richter magnitude of an earthquake that we can feel?

What is the Richter magnitude of the strongest earthquakes?

What 2 pieces of information do you need to figure the Richter magnitude of an earthquake?

• Click on Go to Next Page and read the information.

How much stronger is a magnitude 5 earthquake than a magnitude 3 earthquake?

• Click on Go to Next Page

• Calculate the amplitude for the maximum S wave for each graph and submit to the nomogram.
• Use the graph provided to estimate your Richter magnitude. You want to find the place where the
lines intersect. If only 2 of the lines intersect, use that point. Enter your estimate.
• Click Confirm Magnitude and see how you did. It will tell you the actual Richter scale
measurement of the real earthquake.
• After getting the magnitude correct, fill out your certificate. You should send your certificate to your
e-mail and then forward it to me:

Volcanic Eruptions & Weather/Climate Change

Though environmental scientists argue that global warming is a real phenomena causing significant reaching
effects on a variety of global systems, outspoken skeptics argue that climate change is a fabrication and fallacy.
Media personality Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly asserted his opinion that "natural phenomena such as volcanic
eruptions emit pollutants in volumes that dwarf those produced by human activity, thus proving that fears of
global climate change are fabricated."

More than 80 percent of the Earth's surface -- above and below sea level -- is of volcanic origin. Gas emissions
from volcanic vents over hundreds of millions of years formed the Earth's earliest oceans and atmosphere,
which supplied the ingredients vital to evolve and sustain life. Over geologic eons, countless volcanic eruptions
have produced mountains, plateaus, and plains, which subsequent erosion and weathering have sculpted into
majestic landscapes and formed fertile soils. But, although there are hundreds of active volcanoes worldwide,
most erupt only intermittently. A few erupt often, such as Hawaii's Mauna Loa, but most erupt only once every
few decades to once in several centuries. A few massive eruptions have occurred during the past several
thousand years, e.g., Mt. Mazama in Oregon, whose remains make up Crater Lake National Park. And once
every few hundred thousand years, a truly gigantic eruption occurs, producing deposits such as California's
Bishop Tuff and having profound local and regional effects on climate and life.
Within the past few centuries, several volcanic eruptions have had well-documented temporary effects on
terrestrial climate. One such event occurred in the late 1880's, the eruption of Krakatau in what is presently
Indonesia. Such eruptions are so powerful that they blast vast quantities off ash and gas into the stratosphere
(upper atmosphere) above the zone of atmospheric turbulence. This ash and gas layer stays in the atmosphere
for up to several years and is distributed globally by prevailing high-altitude winds. The ash and gas reflect the
solar radiant energy back to space before it can reach the lower atmosphere or the planet's surface, thus resulting
in cooling the Earth called the albedo effect. This cooling may last, as in the case of the eruption of Mt.
Pinatubo in 1991, for several years. In 1815, the volcano Tambura erupted in the East Indies, producing the so-
called "year without a summer" in parts of the Northern Hemisphere such as New England, where snow fell in
July, and much of western Europe, where crops failed.

Access the link below and determine if volcanoes can have short-term effects upon weather patterns. Use
information from at least two case studies to support your hypotheses.

Continental Drift and Plate Tectonics

In 1912, Alfred Wegener proposed that continental drift has provided a mechanism for the diversification of
life on the planet and provides an explanation for the similarities between species on continents completely
separated by oceans. According to the theory of plate tectonics, large plates under the Earth's surface drifted
away from one another at a rate of 2cm/year and are still moving away from one another. The original
supercontinent, Pangaea, gradually broke apart into pieces as the plates drifted, caused by degassing of the
Earth's hot magma interior. The movement of plates has led to the further understanding of speciation and
biogeography, the geographical distribution of flora and fauna. Support for Wegener's hypothesis is found in
the location of marsupials (ex/ kangaroos) as far away from Australia as the United States (ex/ opossum). As
well, lungfishes are found in three continents suggested that they rose from a common ancestor on Pangaea.

Continental Drift Timeline:

Era Time (mya) Action Result

Paleozoic 543 Pangaea is a single Migration and movement of
continent. species between temperate &
tropical climates.
Mesozoic 180 Pangaea begins to Gondwanaland (south) and
separate Laurasia (north)
Cenozoic 65 Modern continents begin Formation of 5 continents;
to separate Australia continues to move

Explore the animation at the link below to locate several species that evolved during each of the primary eras
described above. Explain how continental drift may have inspired the specific diversity or change that defined
that species. As well, utilize the animation of continental drift to enable you to visualize how the geology of the
surface of the planet changed during the specific time periods.

(Clicking Refresh will replay the animation.)