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ZingPath: Plate Tectonics and Earth's Dynamics

Pangaea: Image of Earth 250 Million Years Ago

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Plate Tectonics and Earth's Dynamics

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Pangaea: Image of Earth 250 Million Years Ago

Earth & Space Science

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Learners form the supercontinent Pangaea using the continents today.

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Now You Know

After completing this tutorial, you will be able to complete the following:

  • After completing this Activity Object, learners will be able to:
  • Explain that the continents were once joined in a single landmass called Pangaea.
  • Describe the fossil, climate, and geological evidence that suggests that continents were once joined.
  • Explain how Wegener’s hypothesis of continental drift fits into the broader theory of plate tectonics.

Everything You'll Have Covered

Prior to Alfred Wegener's proposal of the continental drift hypothesis, the prevailing view of the Earth was that large-scale horizontal movements did not occur. Instead, the presence of similar fossils on widely separated continents was explained by the existence of "land bridges" which had once connected the continents but which had subsequently sunk beneath the oceans. The fit of the coastlines was, if anything, viewed as coincidence. Wegener's hypothesis provided a much simpler explanation and was supported by abundant evidence. However, because he was unable to adequately explain how an object the size of a continent was able to move across large distances, his hypothesis did not gain widespread acceptance.

Later discoveries provided some of the answers that Wegener lacked, and eventually the continental drift hypothesis was combined with several other hypotheses to form the theory of plate tectonics. Rather than continents moving through an unchanging seafloor, it is now thought that the continents and seafloor both move as parts of tectonic plates.

Several different driving mechanisms have been proposed for the movement of plates. One is that convection currents in the mantle carry the continents, as well as the seafloor, along like a conveyor belt. Other ideas are that seafloor spreading actively pushes plates apart, that subducting slabs of oceanic lithosphere pull along the rest of their plates, or that plates just passively slide downhill from relatively high areas (at mid-ocean ridges) to relatively low areas (the trenches at subduction zones).

Tutorial Details

Approximate Time 20 Minutes
Pre-requisite Concepts Climate, continent, fossil, landmass, rock strata
Course Earth & Space Science
Type of Tutorial Concept Development
Key Vocabulary asthenosphere, continental drift, convection