Plate Tectonics: Theoretical Aspects and the Geological History of North America

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The chapter presents different theoretical aspects on Plate Tectonics, which help understand how Earth is built and its internal functioning mechanisms. Central to this theory is the fact that Earth's surface is made up of several large tectonic plates and a few smaller ones, which can be either continental or oceanic, and do not necessarily have the same boundaries as the continents or oceans. These plates shift over long periods of time, movements caused by a force resulted from the planet's internal heat energy convecting mantle. There are three main types of tectonic plate boundaries: divergent (when the movement of plate tectonics causes plates to separate, which can lead, on the long term, to the separation of continents), convergent (plates sink beneath each other forming subduction zones) and transform plate boundaries (one plate scrapes past the other producing no new plate material; e.g. the San Andreas Fault in California). The movement of plate tectonics can be either very smooth, going unnoticed, or more violent, leading to earthquakes. The chapter then follows with a short geological history of North America, in order to illustrate how the discoveries regarding the movement of plate tectonics have led to new ways of thinking about the formation of continents and about the Earth's surface, the development of mountains, oceans and valleys. In relation to this chapter, it is interesting to know how the discussion about plate tectonics emerged. Initially,

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