Guided Exploration: Plate Tectonics main content.

Guided Exploration: Plate Tectonics

Part of Hall of Planet Earth.


HoPE Tour Map: Plate Tectonics


What is Plate Tectonics? 

1. Bronze Globe 

Observe this model to explore the solid Earth — what the Earth looks like without water. (To understand the term “solid Earth,” watch the Dynamic Earth sphere overhead and see the liquid slowly drained away from the rocky surface). Compare the familiar topography of the continents with the less familiar topography of the ocean basins. Then look at the “slice of crust” model hanging overhead. Use the diagram below to find the region on the globe that’s represented in the model above. In this part of the hall, you’ll be exploring the ways in which plate tectonics shapes the solid Earth.

2. Churning Earth Section

Convection is the main way in which heat is lost from the interior of the Earth. It’s the force that drives the movement of tectonic plates. Go to the video kiosk in the circular table and watch scientific models of how the Earth’s core and mantle convect.



When Plates Collide

3. Model of Collision

When an oceanic plate meets a continental plate, the oceanic plate descends, or subducts, beneath the continental plate and sinks into the mantle. Explore the model and use your hands to simulate how plates collide.

4. Explosive Volcanism Section

Explore why most explosive eruptions occur in volcanoes above subduction zones. Examine samples from Medicine Lake Volcano, California (#5-10), and watch a video of scientists at work in Indonesia.

5. Mountain Formation Section

When two continental plates meet, one is thrust over the other to form mountain ranges like the Alps and the Himalayas. Watch the video and examine the sand model, and think about how the model helps scientists understand the way pl