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Course Title
IEQ-05 Earthquake Geology and Geoinformatics
Dr. J . D. Das
(Dept. of Earthquake Engineering, IIT Roorkee)

Plate Tectonics

Brief History of Plate Tectonics

Tectonics =study of the deformation of the earths surface and plate motions, especially
as applied to mountain building.

Ideas about and Evidence for Tectonics

The ancient Greeks (~200 BC) realized that shells found high up in mountains were
actually deposited in old oceans.

Leonardo da Vinci (~1500) came to much the same conclusion when he found some
fossil sea shells high in the mountains and reasoned that, since the shell layers were
discontinuous, the shell layers must have been pushed into mountains rather than the seas
being as high as the mountains.

James Hutton (~1750) incorporated the idea of uplift and erosion into the rock cycle
and his ideas of uniformitarianism (The present is the key to the past).

Darwin on the voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle (~1850), realized that tectonic forces,
especially earthquakes, raised mountains while erosion lowered them.

By the mid 1800s it was obvious that vertical movements of the earth took place. What
remained to be answered is what powered the tectonic forces or what caused the upheaval
of the mountains?

One of the earliest pieces of evidence that large scale horizontal movement of continents
took place was the fit of the continents, especially Africa and South America. Because
there was no mechanism explaining how this could happen the idea that continents
moved over the earths surface was not taken seriously.

In 1910 American geologist Frank Taylor, based on the alignment of mountain ranges,
proposed that the continents had at one time been connected.
The person who is usually given credit for starting the modern theory of plate tectonics is
German meteorologist Alfred Wegener. In 1915 Wegener published a book suggesting
that all the continents had been connected in a single large land mass he called Pangaea.
Wegeners proposed continent helped to explain the distribution of certain plants,
animals, and fossils. However, the hypothesis was not accepted by European and
American geologists, largely because it lacked a mechanism for drifting the continents.
Southern hemisphere geologists who were closer to the evidence accepted Wegeners
hypothesis more readily

The locations of certain fossil plants and animals on present-day, widely separated
continents would form definite patterns (shown by the bands of colors), if the continents
are rejoined.

Present Plate Tectonic set up of the Earth and plate velocities.
Wegener's continental drift hypothesis
Evidence used by Wegener
Fit of South America and Africa
Fossils match across the seas
Rock types and structures match
Ancient climates
Main objection to Wegener's proposal was its inability to provide a

New Evidence for Continental Drift and the Development of Plate Tectonics
Through much of the 1950s and early 1960s northern hemisphere geologists continued
to resist the idea of plate tectonics because of the lack of a mechanism.
Starting in the mid-1960s new evidence from the fields of paleomagnetism and
seismology was developed that eventually convinced most geologists that continents


Evidence for the plate tectonics model
Probably the most persuasive evidence
Ancient magnetism preserved in rocks
Paleomagnetic records show
Polar wandering (evidence that continents moved)
Earth's magnetic field reversals
Recorded in rocks as they form at oceanic ridges

The following types of paleomagnetic information is preserved in rocks:

1. Declination direction that the compass needle points. In the northern hemisphere the
needle points toward the north pole. This is an important feature for apparent polar
2. Inclination dip of the compass needle that is related to latitude
3. Polarity N vs. S seeking

More Evidence for Plate tectonics

Evidence for the plate tectonics model
Earthquake patterns
Associated with plate boundaries
Deep-focus earthquakes along trenches provide a method for
tracking the plate's descent
Ocean drilling
Deep Sea Drilling Project (ship: Glomar Challenger) confirms age
of oceanic crust
Hot Spots

Evidence for the plate tectonics model
Hot spots
Rising plumes of mantle material
Volcanoes can form over them
e.g., Hawaiian Island chain
Chains of volcanoes mark plate movement
Inside the Earth

Our planet is made up of three main layers: crust, mantle, and core. This layered
structure can be compared to that of a boiled egg. The crust, the outermost layer, is rigid
and very thin compared with the other two. Beneath the oceans, the crust varies little in
thickness, generally extending only to about 5 km. The thickness of the crust beneath
continents is much more variable but averages about 30 km; under large mountain ranges,
such as the Himalayas, however, the base of the crust can be as deep as 100 km.

Below the crust is the mantle, a dense, hot layer of semi-solid rock approximately
2,900 km thick. The mantle, which contains more iron, magnesium, and calcium than the
crust, is hotter and denser because temperature and pressure inside the Earth increase
with depth. At the center of the Earth lies the core, which is nearly twice as dense as the
mantle because its composition is metallic (iron-nickel alloy) rather than stony. The
Earth's core is actually made up of two distinct parts: a 2,200 km-thick liquid outer core
and a 1,250 km-thick solid inner core. As the Earth rotates, the liquid outer core spins,
creating the Earth's magnetic field.
Averaging at least 80 km in thickness over much of the Earth, the lithosphere has
been broken up into the moving plates that contain the world's continents and oceans.
Scientists believe that below the lithosphere is a relatively narrow, mobile zone in the
mantle called the asthenosphere (from asthenes, Greek for weak). This zone is composed
of hot, semi-solid material, which can soften and flow after being subjected to high
temperature and pressure over geologic time. The rigid lithosphere is thought to "float" or
move about on the slowly flowing asthenosphere.
Layering of the Earths interior

Layered structure:
Continental (about 35 km thick; 60 km in mountain ranges)
Granitic composition (Si, Al, Fe, Mg, Ca, Na, K, H, Rb, Sr, Ba, U, Th, Ni)
Oceanic (about 5 km thick)
Basaltic composition (above elements but with higher percentage of
heavier elements)
The crust is divided into continental plates which drift slowly (only a few
centimeters each year) atop the less rigid mantle. The crust is thinner under the
oceans (6-11 km thick); this is where new crust is formed. Continental crust is
about 25-90 km thick. The lithosphere is defined as the crust and the upper
mantle, a rigid layer about 100-200 km thick. The Mohorovicic discontinuity is
the separation between the crust and the upper mantle.

Mantle (2885 km thick)
Composition: peridotite (Mg Fe silicates), kimberlite (diamonds), eclogite
Solid that flows (rheid); plastic behavior

Mantle: Under the crust is the rocky mantle, which is composed of silicon,
oxygen, magnesium, iron, aluminum, and calcium. The upper mantle is rigid and
is part of the lithosphere (together with the crust). The lower mantle flows
slowly, at a rate of a few centimeters per year. The asthenosphere is a part of the
upper mantle that exhibits plastic properties. It is located below the lithosphere
(the crust and upper mantle), between about 100 and 250 kilometers deep.
Convection (heat) currents carry heat from the hot inner mantle to the cooler outer
mantle. The mantle is about 1,700 miles (2,750 km) thick. The mantle gets
warmer with depth; the top of the mantle is about 1,600 F (870 C); towards the
bottom of the mantle, the temperature is about 4,000-6,700 F (2,200-3,700 C).
The mantle contains most of the mass of the Earth. The Gutenberg discontinuity
separates the outer core and the mantle.

Outer core (2270 km thick)
Molten Fe with some Ni
Inner core (1216 km radius)
Solid Fe with some Ni

Core: The Earth has a iron-nickel core that is about 2,100 miles in radius. The inner core
may have a temperature up to about 13,000F (7,200C =7,500 K), which is hotter than
the surface of the Sun. The inner core (which has a radius of about 750 miles (1,228 km)
is solid. The outer core is in a liquid state and is about 1,400 miles (2,260 km) thick.

How do we know what the Earth's Interior is like?
1. Volcanic activity
Materials are brought up from below.
Xenoliths =foreign rock (pieces of the mantle in lava)
example: coarse-grained olivine (peridotite) xenoliths in basaltic lava
Only useful to depth of about 200 km
2. High pressure laboratory experiments
3. Samples of the solar system (meteorites)
4. Study of seismic waves generated by earthquakes and nuclear explosions
(More below)
Probing the Earth's Interior with Seismic Waves
P and S wave travel times depend on properties of rock materials that they pass through.
Search for differences in travel times which will correspond to differences in rock
Major layers of the Earth were detected before 1950.
Fine details were delineated in 1960's during nuclear testing.
Wave velocity depends on density and elasticity of rock.
Seismic waves travel faster in denser rock.
Speed of seismic waves increases with depth (pressure and density increase downward).
Isostasy is a term used in Geology to refer to the state of gravitational equilibrium
between the earth's lithosphere and asthenosphere such that the tectonic plates "float" at
an elevation which depends on their thickness and density. It is invoked to explain how
different topographic heights can exist at the Earth's surface. When a certain area of
lithosphere reaches the state of isostasy, it is said to be in isostatic equilibrium. It is
important to note that isostasy is not a process that upsets equilibrium, but rather one
which restores it. It is generally accepted that the earth is a dynamic system that responds
to loads in many different ways, however isostasy provides an important 'view' of the
processes that are actually happening. Nevertheless, certain areas (such as the Himalayas)
are not in isostatic equilibrium, which has forced researchers to identify other reasons to
explain their topographic heights (in the case of the Himalayas, by proposing that their
elevation is being "propped-up" by the force of the impacting Indian plate).
In the simplest example, isostasy is the principle of Buoyancy observed by Archimedes in
his bath, where he saw that when an object was immersed, an amount of water equal in
volume to that of the object was displaced. On a geological scale, isostasy can be
observed where the Earth's strong lithosphere exerts stress on the weaker asthenosphere
which, over geological time flows laterally such that the load of the lithosphere is
accommodated by height adjustments.
Isostatic models
Three principal models of isostasy are used:
The Airy-Heiskanen Model
- where different topographic heights are accommodated by changes in crustal
The Pratt-Hayford Model
- where different topographic heights are accommodated by lateral changes in
rock density.


What is a tectonic plate?
A tectonic plate (also called lithospheric plate) is a massive, irregularly shaped
slab of solid rock, generally composed of both continental and oceanic lithosphere. Plate
size can vary greatly, from a few hundred to thousands of kilometers across; the Pacific
and Antarctic Plates are among the largest. Plate thickness also varies greatly, ranging
from less than 15 km for young oceanic lithosphere to about 200 km or more for ancient
continental lithosphere (for example, the interior parts of North and South America).
How do these massive slabs of solid rock float despite their tremendous weight?
The answer lies in the composition of the rocks. Continental crust is composed of granitic
rocks which are made up of relatively lightweight minerals such as quartz and feldspar.
By contrast, oceanic crust is composed of basaltic rocks, which are much denser and
heavier. The variations in plate thickness are nature's way of partly compensating for the
imbalance in the weight and density of the two types of crust. Because continental rocks
are much lighter, the crust under the continents is much thicker (as much as 100 km)
whereas the crust under the oceans is generally only about 5 km thick. Like icebergs,
only the tips of which are visible above water, continents have deep "roots" to support
their elevations. Tectonic plates probably developed very early in the Earth's 4.6-billion-
year history, and they have been drifting about on the surface ever since-like slow-
moving bumper cars repeatedly clustering together and then separating.
Like many features on the Earth's surface, plates change over time. Those
composed partly or entirely of oceanic lithosphere can sink under another plate, usually a
lighter, mostly continental plate, and eventually disappear completely.
What drives the plates?
Models for the driving forces

The rates of plate motion through time have not been constant. What forces cause
the plates to move, and why does the rate vary through time? It can be described through
two principal categories of model for the driving forces of plate tectonics: the mantle
plume model, and models based upon force balance calculations.

The mantle plume model holds that an important sources of convective heat
transfer from the lower to the upper mantle is plumes, which are rising columns of hot
material a few hundred kilometers in diameter that spread out into the asthenosphere like
a thunderhead beneath the lithospheric plates. The complementary return flow would
involve a uniform sinking of the entire mantle below the asthenosphere, in addition to the
more localized downflow associated with subduction zones. The lateral spreading of
material in the asthenosphere away from a plume produces a radial shear stress on the
bottom of the overlying lithosphere. If a number of plumes are aligned, then the dominant
asthenospheric flow would be laterally away from the line of plumes, and the shear stress
would act to pull the lithosphere apart, creating a spreading center along a line of plumes.
Plume model does not consider all the possible forces that can act on a lithospheric plate.
From seismic and other geophysical evidence and laboratory experiments, scientists
generally agree that the plate-driving force is the slow movement of hot, softened mantle
that lies below the rigid plates. The circular motion of the mantle carried the continents
along in much the same way as a conveyor belt. However, at the time that Wegener
proposed his theory of continental drift, most scientists still believed the Earth was a
solid, motionless body. Below the lithospheric plates, at some depth the mantle is
partially molten and can flow, albeit slowly, in response to steady forces applied for long
periods of time. J ust as a solid metal like steel, when exposed to heat and pressure, can be
softened and take different shapes, so too can solid rock in the mantle when subjected to
heat and pressure in the Earth's interior over millions of years.

Conceptual drawing of assumed convection cells in the mantle (see text). Below a depth
of about 700 km, the descending slab begins to soften and flow, losing its form.

Sketch showing convection cells commonly seen in boiling water or soup. This analogy,
however, does not take into account the huge differences in the size and the flow rates of
these cells.
The mobile rock beneath the rigid plates is believed to be moving in a circular
manner somewhat like a pot of thick soup when heated to boiling. The heated soup rises
to the surface, spreads and begins to cool, and then sinks back to the bottom of the pot
where it is reheated and rises again. This cycle is repeated over and over to generate what
scientists call a convection cell or convective flow.
Convection cannot take place without a source of heat. Heat within the Earth
comes from two main sources: radioactive decay and residual heat. Radioactive decay, a
spontaneous process that is the basis of "isotopic clocks" used to date rocks, involves the
loss of particles from the nucleus of an isotope (the parent) to form an isotope of a new
element (the daughter). The radioactive decay of naturally occurring chemical elements -
- most notably uranium, thorium, and potassium -- releases energy in the form of heat,
which slowly migrates toward the Earth's surface. Residual heat is gravitational energy
left over from the formation of the Earth -- 4.6 billion years ago -- by the "falling
together" and compression of cosmic debris. How and why the escape of interior heat
becomes concentrated in certain regions to form convection cells remains a mystery.
Force-Balance Models

To develop a more complete understanding of the driving forces of plate
tectonics, it is necessary to account for all the possible forces on a plate. Models
incorporating these factors are called force-balance models.

Diagram of plate boundaries with forces used in force-balance model.

The ridge-push force (F
) represents a push from a divergent plate margin. It
originates from the topographic slope of the ocean bottom created by isostatic uplift at a
spreading center. At a given depth in the mantle above the level of isostatic
compensation, the pressure P
at a depth below point 1 close to the spreading center is
higher than the pressure P
at a point below point 2 farther away, because the weight of
the overlying column of rock and water is larger. The resulting horizontal pressure
gradient provides a force that tends to drive the lithospheric plates apart at the spreading
center. This force therefore depends on the average topographic slope of the ridge flank.

Cross section of a ridge-push force.

The mantle-drag force (F
) is the shear force exerted on the base of the plate by
the relative motion of the underlying mantle. It reflects the viscous coupling between the
asthenosphere and the lithosphere. This force could either drive the plate forward or resist
its movement, depending on the direction of the mantles relative velocity with respect to
the lithosphere. In the plume model,

The slab-pull force (F
) is caused by the tendency of the colder and denser
lithosphere to sink into the underlying mantle. This force should be greater for older
lithosphere than the younger, because older lithosphere is colder and therefore more
dense. As the slab sinks, it tends to pull the surficial part of the plate behind it. Of course,
the stress in the slab is not an absolute tensile stress, but the minimum principal stress is
less than the lithospheric pressure and is oriented parallel to the slab.

Cross section of slabs illustrating dominant first-motion solutions for earthquakes in
subducted slabs. Open circles indicate down-dip contraction. Closed circles indicate
down-dip extension. Opposing arrows indicate thrust fault solution. A. Slabs extending to
shallow depths show down-dip extension. B. Slabs extending to intermediate depths
show down-dip extension in the shallower part of the slab, and down-dip contraction in
the deeper part. C. Slabs extending to great depths are dominated by down-dip
contraction. D. Segment slabs show down-dip extension in the shallow part and down-dip
contraction in the deep part.

The slab-drag force (F
) arises from the resistance of the mantle to the slab as it
sinks. This force should be less in the asthenosphere, where the mantle viscosity is
relatively low, than below the asthenosphere, where the viscosity increases. First motions
showing down-dip contraction are characteristic of many deep earthquakes and of
earthquakes through-out slabs that are continuous to depths of 600 to 700 km.

The transform-resistance force (F
) is a resistanceto strike-slip motion along a
transform fault. The presence of seismic activity along transform faults is evidence of
friction on the fault that resists the fault motion. At deeper levels, the resistance is
associated with ductile shearing.

The subduction-resistance force (F
) results from the shearing between an
overriding plate and a downgoing plate. This force gives rise to the many shallow
earthquakes that occur along subducting plate margins. The magnitude of the force
presumably depends on the effective coefficient of friction between the plates.

The trench-suction force (F
) tends to draw the overriding plate toward the
trench. Its importance may be indicated by the observations that all circum-Pacific
trenches are moving towards the ocean basin, and the Pacific basin is getting smaller. The
implication of this observation is that, above the subducting slab, there is a flow of the
mantle and lithosphere toward the trench. Such a flow could be set up as a result of the
entrainment of the mantle by the downward motion of the subducted slab, which would
cause a corner flow in the overlying mantle wedge.

Present Day Plate tectonics
Evidence for the plate tectonics model
Earthquake patterns
Associated with plate boundaries
Deep-focus earthquakes along trenches provide a method for
tracking the plate's descent
Ocean drilling
Deep Sea Drilling Project (ship: Glomar Challenger) confirms age
of oceanic crust

Measuring plate motion
By using hot spot tracks like those of the Hawaiian Island - Emperor
Seamount chain
Using space-age technology to directly measure the relative motion of
Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI)
Global Positioning System (GPS)

Plate tectonics: the new paradigm

Plate boundaries
Types of plate boundaries
Divergent or Constructive
Convergent or Destructive
Shear or Transform

Divergent Boundaries

Plate boundaries
Types of plate boundaries
Divergent plate boundaries (constructive margins)
Two plates move apart
Mantle material upwells to create new seafloor
Ocean ridges and seafloor spreading
Oceanic ridges develop along well-developed
Along ridges, seafloor spreading creates new
Present active divergent boundary on continental part exists in the eastern part of the


Convergent (or destructive), Divergent (or constructive) and Transform or Shear type
plate boundaries.

At divergent boundaries new crust is created as the plates pull away from each other.
Oceans are born and grow wider where plates diverge or pull apart. As seen below, when
a diverging boundary occurs on land a 'rift', or separation will arise and over time that
mass of land will break apart into distinct land masses and the surrounding water will fill
the space between them.

Iceland offers scientists a natural laboratory for studying - on land - the processes that
occur along submerged parts of a divergent boundary. Iceland is splitting along the Mid-
Atlantic Ridge - a divergent boundary between the North American and Eurasian Plates.
As North America moves westward and Eurasia eastward, new crust is created on both
sides of the diverging boundary. While the creation of new crust adds mass to Iceland on
both sides of the boundary, it also creates a rift along the boundary. Iceland will
inevitably break apart into two separate land masses at some point in the future, as the
Atlantic waters eventually rush in to fill the widening and deepening space between.

Birth of an Island: On November 14, 1963, in the early morning, several miles off the
southern coast of Iceland, fishermen noticed black smoke bubbling from the sea. By
evening, a ridge of hardening lava was noticed just below the waves. And by the
following morning, a tiny island had emerged (one square mile) above the surface.

Rift Valley

A new ocean basin is created when a tectonic plate carrying a continent literally splits
apart. In this process the heat from underlying magma wells up from deep within the
earth, weakening and stretching the overlying continental crust. The brittle crust then
fractures on each side of the stressed area, allowing sections to drop. The result is a
rugged terrestrial rift valley.
This early stage of ocean building is evident in several parts of todays world, including
the Baikal region of southeastern Siberia known as the Basin, and the United States from
western Utah to eastern California, an area known to geologists as the Range. But the
most dramatic example of an emerging ocean basin in its infancy is the Great Rift Valley
of East Africa, stretching between Ethiopia and Tanzania. As the continent of Africa
breaks apart along a rift, a new plate (the Somali Plate) is taking shape. In time, the sea
will invade the gap created by the separation, thus forming a new ocean basin. The Red
Sea is a widening ocean basin located where the Arabian Peninsula was severed from
Africa long ago by the pulling apart of the African Plate and Arabian Plate. Africa is
literally coming apart at the seams.

As a young ocean widens and matures, the undersea rift develops a ridge of lava
mountains on the trailing edge of each plate. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge, for example, rises
where the American continents are separating from Europe and Africa. Other Mid-Ocean
Ridges include the East Pacific Rise, several hundred miles off the western coast of South
America, and the Indian Ridge, off the Eastern coast of Africa, south of India. Each of
these mid-ocean ridges first appeared as a terrestrial rift valley involved in the break-up
of some ancient land mass.

East African Rift

Africa's Great Rift Valley is a 6,000-mile crack (fissure) in the earth's crust, stretching
from Lebanon to Mozambique. One of its most dramatic sections slices through East
Africa, dividing Kenya into two segments. Geologists know that the Rift Valley was
formed by violent subterranean forces that tore apart the earth's crust. These forces
caused huge chunks of the crust to sink between parallel fault lines and force up molten
rock in volcanic eruptions. Evidence that this process, called rifting, is still in progress
comes from the many active and semi-active volcanoes, located along the Rift. Evidence
of volcanic activity along the rift is provided by the presence of numerous boiling hot
springs. Widening of the rift is 3.70.9 mm/year, and that most of this widening is
concentrated in the deepest, most youthful part of the rift zone (2.91 mm/year).


East African rift system also showing triple plate junction

There has been considerable discussion on this over the years. Some have ascribed rifting
to up-doming of the crust over a hot-spot; certainly parts of the E African rift system are
very elevated, compared with other sectors, suggesting that the doming reflects an
underlying hot low-density mantle plume. In other cases, geophysical models suggest the
asthenospheric mantle is rising to high levels beneath the rift. However it is also apparent
that rifting can take place without extensive uplift; in such cases it may be the convective
processes in the underlying asthenosphere which are causing the extension. To rift a
continent apart it needs the rifts associated with various possible thermal domes to link

As continents drift slowly over hotspots the hotspots weaken the plate - like a blowtorch
impinging on the base - and these weakened zones become the sites of continental rifting.

Transform or Shear Boundaries

Plate boundaries
Types of plate boundaries
Transform fault boundaries
Plates slide past one another
No new crust is created
No crust is destroyed
Transform faults
Most join two segments of a mid-ocean ridge
At the time of formation, they roughly parallel the
direction of plate movement
Aid the movement of oceanic crustal material
Plates on either side of a transform boundary slide past each other without either late
being consumed and without a gap opening between the plates.
Recent analysis of satellite altimeter data has allowed scientists to use slight variations in
the elevation of the ocean surface to determine the topography of the seafloor

Examination of oceanic ridges along the East Pacific Rise or Mid-Atlantic Ridge show
offsets along transform boundaries.

Transform or Shear Boundaries

The San Andreas Fault is a transform
boundary that separates the North American
and Pacific Plates. The smaller J uan de Fuca
plate lies between these two plates opposite
Oregon, Washington, northern California, and
part of British Columbia. The Pacific Plate
moves northwest relative to the North
American Plate. Los Angeles will migrate
toward San Francisco over the next several
million years.

San Andreas Fault

Land on the west side of the San Andreas Fault, including Los Angeles and San Diego, is
part of the Pacific Plate. San Francisco lies east of the fault and is on the North American
Plate. Western California is being slowly displaced to the northwest relative to the rest of
the state. It is not going to drop off into the ocean but it will eventually migrate along the
western boundary of the North American Plate, eventually colliding with Alaska millions
of years from now.

Convergent Boundaries

Plate boundaries
Types of plate boundaries
Convergent plate boundaries (destructive margins)
Plates collide, an ocean trench forms and lithosphere is
subducted into the mantle
There are 3 types of convergent boundaries:
1) oceanic-continental,
2) oceanic-oceanic,
3) continental-continental

Convergent Boundaries Oceanic-Continental

Plate boundaries
Types of plate boundaries
Convergent plate boundaries (destructive margins)
Oceanic-continental convergence
Denser oceanic slab sinks into the asthenosphere
Pockets of magma develop and rise
Continental volcanic arcs form
Examples include the Andes, Cascades, and the
Sierra Nevadan system

Convergent Boundaries Oceanic-Oceanic

Plate boundaries
Types of plate boundaries
Convergent plate boundaries (destructive margins)
Oceanic-oceanic convergence
Two oceanic slabs converge and one descends
beneath the other
Often forms volcanoes on the ocean floor
Volcanic island arcs forms as volcanoes emerge
from the sea
Examples include the Aleutian, Mariana, and Tonga

Convergent Boundaries Continental-Continental
Plate boundaries
Types of plate boundaries
Convergent plate boundaries (destructive margins)
Continental-continental convergence
When subducting plates contain continental
material, two continents collide
Can produce new mountain ranges such as the
The collision of India and Asia produced the Himalayas (before)

The collision of India and Asia produced the Himalayas (after)

The Himalayas: Two continents collide
Among the most dramatic and visible creations of plate-tectonic forces are the lofty
Himalayas, which stretch 2,500 km (100 to 400 km wide) along the border between India
and Tibet. This immense mountain range began to form between 40 and 50 million years
ago, when two large landmasses, India and Eurasia, driven by plate movement, collided.
Because both these continental landmasses have about the same rock density, one plate
could not be subducted under the other. The pressure of the impinging plates could only
be relieved by thrusting skyward, contorting the collision zone, and forming the jagged
Himalayan peaks.
About 225 million years ago, India was a large island still situated off the Australian
coast, and a vast ocean (called Tethys Sea) separated India from the Asian continent.
When Pangaea broke apart about 200 million years ago, India began to forge northward.
By studying the history -- and ultimately the closing-- of the Tethys, scientists have
reconstructed India's northward journey. About 80 million years ago, India was located
roughly 6,400 km south of the Asian continent, moving northward at a rate of about 9 m
a century. When India rammed into Asia about 40 to 50 million years ago, its northward
advance slowed by about half. The collision and associated decrease in the rate of plate
movement are interpreted to mark the beginning of the rapid uplift of the Himalayas.

The 6,000-km-plus journey of the India landmass (Indian Plate) before its collision with
Asia (Eurasian Plate) about 40 to 50 million years ago (see text). India was once situated
well south of the Equator, near the continent of Australia.
The Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau to the north have risen very rapidly. In just 50
million years, peaks such as Mt. Everest have risen to heights of more than 9 km. The
impinging of the two landmasses has yet to end. The Himalayas continue to rise more
than 1 cm a year -- a growth rate of 10 km in a million years! If that is so, why aren't the
Himalayas even higher? Scientists believe that the Eurasian Plate may now be stretching
out rather than thrusting up, and such stretching would result in some subsidence due to

At present, the movement of India continues to put enormous pressure on the Asian
continent, and Tibet in turn presses on the landmass to the north that is hemming it in.
The net effect of plate-tectonics forces acting on this geologically complicated region is
to squeeze parts of Asia eastward toward the Pacific Ocean. One serious consequence of
these processes is a deadly "domino" effect: tremendous stresses build up within the
Earth's crust, which are relieved periodically by earthquakes along the numerous faults
that scar the landscape. Some of the world's most destructive earthquakes in history are
related to continuing tectonic processes that began some 50 million years ago when the
Indian and Eurasian continents first met.

Tsunamigenic Earthquake

Typical interplate earthquakes occur at the seismogenic interface between
subducting and overlaying plates. This is the type of most tsunamigenic

Slab (intraplate) earthquake, if the location is within the subducting slab. This
include deep earthquakes, although only those occurring less than about 100 km
depth are tsunamigenic. Crustal earthquake, if it is in the overlaying crust, can be
tsunamigenic if the source is beneath water.


Plate tectonic set up of the Andaman-Sumatra region

Sumatra earthquake and its aftershock distribution

Formation of a tsunami

Physics of the tsunami
Waves are formed as the displaced water mass attempts to regain its equilibrium.
And the size of the resultant tsunami waves is determined by the quantum of the
deformation of the sea floor.
More the vertical displacement, greater will be the size of the waves.
To generate tsunamis, earthquakes must occur underneath or near the ocean, be large
and create movements in the sea floor.
They can be more aptly described as a series of waves of extremely long wavelength
and long period generated in a body of water by an impulsive disturbance that displaces
the water.
Wind-generated waves usually have period (time between two successive waves) of five
to twenty seconds and a wavelength (distance between two successive waves) of about
100 to 200 metres (300 to 600 ft).
Tsunamis can have a period in the range of ten minutes to two hours and a wavelength
in excess of 500 km.
It is because of their long wavelengths that tsunamis behave as shallow-water waves.
Since tsunamis have a very large wavelength, in excess of 500 km, it will lose little
energy as it propagates.
Hence in very deep water, a tsunami will travel at high speeds and travel great distances
with limited energy loss.
For example, when the ocean is more than 5000 metres deep, unnoticed tsunami travel
about 890 km per hour, the speed of a jet airplane.
As the tsunami crosses the deep ocean, its wavelength distance from crest to crest
may be hundred kilometres or more and its amplitude height from crest to trough
will be in the order of a few feet or less. They cannot be felt aboard ships nor can they
be seen from the air in the open ocean.