|Are the tectonic plates flat or curved to fit the
surface of the earth?
|Question Date: 2004-11-17|
Tectonic plates are curved -- they can
cover very large areas of the planet (consider the
pacific plate), yet are only a few tens of
The plates are curved to fit the shape of the
Earth. The Pacific Plate, which spans roughly a
quarter of the Earth's surface area, would stick
thousands of kilometers into space were it flat.
The tectonic plates are curved to fit the
surface of the earth. However, it might be
more correct to say that the surface of the
earth is curved because the plates are curved.
Since the plates make up the outer crust of the
planet, their shape determines the shape of the
planet. Because the earth's gravity is quite
strong in all directions, the whole planet,
including the plates on the surface, is held in a
curved, spherical shape.
Yes, they are actually spherical caps that
follow the curvature of the earth. In fact,
they DEFINE the curvature of the earth. They
are called plates because we usually depict them
on a 2D map surface... a flat plane... but really
the earth is round!!!
Tectonic plates are curved to fit the
surface of the earth. For instance, the
Pacific Plate (on which we live!) curves across
about 40% of the earth near the equator. If
tectonic plates were truly flat, they would have
to be very small and there would be thousands of
them to fit around the spherical shape of the
earth - rather like all the little flat mirror
pieces that are glued onto a ball to make a
discoball. Instead, the earth has about 10
major tectonic plates that can be thousands of
miles across each.
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