Tectonic Plates

Tectonic plates are pieces of the crust of the Earth and the mantle that form together to make the lithosphere. There are different plates that come in different sizes.

tectonic plates of the world

What Are the Tectonic Plates?

The tectonic plates are the pieces of the crust of the Earth that move around and connect together. These pieces are similar to a puzzle piece. When you look at a map, you see how the different continents fit together to form what looks like a puzzle, this is called tectonic plates.


The Lithosphere is the part of the Earth which includes the crust and the mantle. The lithosphere was broken by all of the pressure of the heat under the Earth and the movement of the mantle. The lithosphere is where the tectonic plates take place.

Transform boundary

When the lithosphere broke into pieces, it caused the continental drift to form.

What Do Tectonic Plates Do?

The tectonic plates move around and sometimes they bump into each other and sometimes they move together or far away from each other.

How Far to Tectonic Plates Move?

Most tectonic plates move only around a centimeter or two each year.

What Does the Tectonic Plate Movement Cause?

When the tectonic plates move around, this can cause disasters for many areas. This movement can cause things such as:

  • Tsunamis
  • Earthquakes
  • Volcanoes

Convergent boundary

Where Are the Tectonic Plates?

Tectonic plates are found all over the world. These plates are like sheets that sit under the top layer of the Earth. These plates are sitting on top of hot lava or liquid that is moving under the surface of the Earth. As the plates sit on top of the liquid, they move around.


Volcanoes are formed by tectonic plates. They form when one tectonic plate will hit into another tectonic plate and one of them slides under the other. When they slide on top of one another, one is higher and the one that is pushed into the magma melts and then when it cools down, it causes the area around it to get hard and to pile up on each other.

When all of that happens, the tectonic plates form volcanoes. Volcanoes are well known in some parts of the Earth and one area is called “The Ring of Fire.” The Ring of Fire is a place where there are all kinds of volcanoes. This ring of volcanoes is located from California all the way to Asia.

The Ring of Fire makes up 75% of all of the volcanoes in the world.


The only way that you could really see the plate tectonics move would be if there was an earthquake. When an earthquake happens, it causes the plates to move and to even stack on top of each other.

Earthquakes happen like volcanoes when the tectonic plates push together. The difference is that the tectonic plates rub against each other and they get stuck but then they form into a new position. This is what causes the Earth to shake and move.

Fault lines are where earthquakes and volcanoes are. This is where much of the activity happens.

The “Ring of Fire” is an area of all kinds of volcanic activity and earthquakes that is caused by a lot of tectonic plate movement.

The Hawaiian Islands are not part of the “Ring of Fire,” but are called hot spots because this is where magma rises up from the crust of the Earth through volcanoes.


When a tsunami happens, it is a large wave that starts far out into the ocean and it goes to the shore. It is so big that it can wipe out a whole city.

Tsunamis happen also from tectonic plates. After an earthquake or a volcanic eruption, the plates hit fast into each other and when this happens, it causes the plate to shift under the water. When this happens, it causes a wave in the ocean to start moving until it gets very big.

The area with the “Ring of Fire” is a popular place for tsunamis because of all of the action from the plates and the earthquakes and volcanoes.

Types of Plates

There are two different types of tectonic plates including oceanic and continental plates. The plates are more than 60 miles thick.

  • Oceanic plates-The oceanic plates are made up of magnesium and silicon. The crust of these plates is called “sima” after the silicon it is made up of.
  • Continental plates-The continental plates are made up of silicon and aluminum. The crust of these plates is called “sial” which is named after the elements it is made of.

Plate Boundaries

There are three different types of boundaries in which the plates move, and these include convergent boundaries, divergent boundaries and transform boundaries.

Convergent Boundaries

Convergent boundaries are the places where the two plates will push together or move under each other. When the plates move under each other it is called subduction. The movement can be slow and can be where volcanoes and mountains are formed.

Divergent Boundaries

Divergent boundaries happen when the two plates are pushed apart. When there is land and this happens, it is called a rift. New land can be made when magma goes from the mantle and reaches the surface and cools down.

Transform Boundaries

When the plates slide past each other, this is called a transform boundary. These are also called faults and happen usually after an earthquake has happened.

Different Plates

Some scientists believe that there are seven or eight major plates that make up the plate tectonics of the Earth. There are also other plates that are minor plates that are hooked on to the major plates.

Each year, these plates move about one centimeter so even if you watched it for the whole year, you would not even know that it moved.

Major Plates

The seven different major plates include:

  • Eurasian
  • North America
  • South America
  • Africa
  • Antarctic
  • India-Australian
  • Pacific Plates

Minor Plates

Some of the minor plates include:

  • Scotia
  • Arabia
  • Caribbean
  • Nazca
  • Scotia

More Facts About Tectonic Plates:

  • The difference between plate tectonics and tectonic plates is that tectonic plates are the actual plates and plate tectonics is the theory as to why the plates move.
  • Tectonic plates are responsible for much of the natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis.
  • When there is a heavy and light plate and the heavy plate pushes under the light plate, the light plate raises, and this is how volcanoes are formed.
  • When two plates hit together hard, this is what causes an earthquake.
  • The heat from under the surface of the Earth causes the mantle to move up and down.
  • The Red Sea was formed when the African plate and the Arabian plate pulled apart.
  • Scientists can track tectonic plates by using a GPS.

What Did You Learn?

  • What are tectonic plates?
    Tectonic plates are the plates that are part of the crust of the Earth and the mantle.
  • What do tectonic plates do?
    Tectonic plates move to and from each other and hit into each other. The plates are moving because of the liquid that is found under the crust of the Earth and under the surface. The plates basically slide on the liquid and move even though the movement is very slow.
  • Are tectonic plates dangerous?
    Tectonic plates can be dangerous because they are the reason that many natural disasters happen. When the plates hit into each other or move on top of each other, they can cause earthquakes, tsunamis and even volcanic eruptions.
  • What are the two types of tectonic plates?
    There are two types of tectonic plates, major plates and minor plates. The major plates are the continents and the minor plates are pieces that flow off of these.
  • What is the difference between tectonic plates and plate tectonics?
    Tectonic plates are the actual plate and plate tectonics is the theory as to why the plates move.