Physical Geography

Plate Tectonics Unit Outline

Important concepts

By the end of this unit you should have a good understanding of following ideas and concepts:
1.    Introductory PowerPoint Presentation.
Click here for a show that will take you through the basics of this complicated field of study.  Much of this may be review.

2.    Study images and graphics related to the movement of the plates.

3.    The Hawaiian Islands Conveyor Belt
Why is Hawaii (the Big Island) is the only active Hawaiian Island?  Why is Kauai Island the oldest?  Start by reading about "hotspots" from and see if you can figure it out.  When you think you have it, draw a cross-sectional profile of the Pacific plate that shows the Hawaiian Islands and the hotspot that has created the islands..

4.    ArcView Activity: Plate Tectonics
This activity integrates the use of ArcView with your study of plate tectonics.  Click here to download a MS Word version of the activity.

5.    Shake and Bake!
Click here to open another ArcView activity that deals with the world wide distribution of earthquakes and volcanoes.

6.    Activity: Recent earthquakes
Click here to see this activity.

7.    Enrichment:

A.    Major pieces of evidence for plate tectonics

There are several important pieces of geophysical evidence that are used to support the theory of plate tectonics.  These include geomagnetic anomalies, the age of the rocks on the ocean floor, heat flow variations, and earthquake and volcano patterns.  Research these and any other others you may come across and present your findings in a PowerPoint presentation.  Here is a site that might be of some use.

Here is a beauty map showing the age of the ocean floor.  Note the pattern.

B.    Two types of volcanoes

While geologists have described many different types of volcanic eruptions, there are really only two that need concern us.  There are those that erupt violently and then there the few that erupt in a more measured and leisurely fashion.  Research the two types and describe the main factor that causes the difference.  For a starter you might try this site which fairly clearly describes the types of volcanoes based on what is called "tectonic setting".  Then there is this site by Science Spectra.  It's a bit dense but skim down the page and get the general drift.  Look for the part about Non-Explosive Eruptions.  And if that doesn't get it done, there is a great deal of information available at the volcano page.  Your task here is present your findings in a brief PowerPoint presentation.

C.    Why the Poseidon Adventure Really Got it Wrong

Tidal waves are all wrong. In fact, there's no such thing.  Find out the physics of these monster waves and the nature of the damage they have caused.  Check out the list of good sites from and create a PowerPoint presentation that explains the whys and wherefores of tsunamis.

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