Learning and teaching resources on the fundamentals of plate tectonics and the basics of earthquakes are provided in this section. The treatment of plate tectonics emphasizes how the distribution and properties of plates and the motions at different kinds of plate boundaries explain global-scale patterns of earthquakes and volcanoes. Themes of the introduction to earthquakes are the nature of seismic waves, the geographic, depth, and size distribution of earthquakes, and the interplay of forces, faults, and friction that account for where and when earthquakes occur.
To efficiently learn about Plate Tectonics and Earthquakes using the TOTLE web site and to locate teaching resources on this topic, start by viewing the PowerPoint presentations. We recommend that first-time users download and view the presentations to understand the logical sequence of observations and concepts. These presentations are large files so downloading may require tens of seconds or even a minute. The first presentation you should view is Plate Tectonic PowerPoint Presentation that provides both an introduction to plate tectonics and links to teaching resources tailored for a middle school audience. You should then view the Earthquake Seismology PowerPoint Presentation that provides background information and links to teaching resources on fundamentals of earthquakes.
A PDF Guide to Plate Tectonics and Earthquakes is also available. This guide is an outline of the Plate Tectonic and Earthquake Seismology PowerPoint Presentations. The guide contains links to TOTLE Introduction to Plate Tectonics and Earthquakes teaching resources and a table of contents of teaching resources on this topic.
Video lecture on how temperature controls mechanical behavior of materials, including rocks. A Big Hunk candy bar is used as a model. The cold candy bar is brittle while the warm candy bar is ductile or plastic.
Demonstration of brittle fracture by bending and breaking a yard stick.
John Lahr (US Geological Survey Emeritus) describes the single-block Earthquake Machine model. This simple physical model demonstrates the “earthquake cycle”, the slow accumulation of elastic energy in rocks adjacent to a fault followed by rapid release of elastic energy during an earthquake.
John Lahr (US Geological Survey Emeritus) describes the two-block “Earthquake Machine” model. Connecting two blocks together begins to model interactions between adjacent patches on a fault. The two-block model demonstrates how motion on one area of a fault can increase stress on an adjacent area, bringing it closer to failure in an earthquake.
Actual video of an earthquake occurring on the San Andreas Fault near Parkfield, California. Watch the trees shake and the birds fly when the earthquake shakes the ground!
A hard-boiled egg is used as a scale model for the zones of the Earth. The shell is to the egg as the lithosphere is to the Earth.
John Lahr (USGS seismologist emeritus) demonstrates that elasticity of rocks by squeezing a slit core of rock.
Video lecture on using foam faults to demonstrate faults and a deck of cards to demonstrate folds and fabrics. Different types of faults are: normal (extensional) faults; thrust (compressional) faults; and strike-slip (shearing) faults.
Video lecture describing thickness, layering, and brittle nature of lithospheric plates. Continental lithosphere and oceanic lithosphere are compared.
Robert Butler explaining how to use the measured arrival times of P and S waves to determine the distance to an earthquake using standard travel-time curves.
Video lecture on distinction between earthquake epicenter and earthquake focus.
Video lecture on how to use earthquake records from three seismometers and the seismic wave travel-time curves to locate the earthquake.
Video lecture on divergent (spreading), transform (strike-slip), and convergent (subduction and continental collision) types of plate boundaries.
Video lecture on viscoelastic properties of the asthenophere region of Earth’s mantle below the lithospheric plates. Silly Putty is used as a model to show how the asthenosphere is elastic when exposed to short-duration forces (like seismic waves) but plastic when exposed to long-duration forces (like the load of the Hawaiian Islands on the Pacific Plate).
Short film segment showing a seismograph displaying ground oscillations as the seismic waves from an earthquake arrive.
Ross Stein (US Geological Survey) explains how faults rupture during earthquakes.
Video lecture describing speeds and paths of different seismic waves within Earth.
Video lecture on wave motions and speeds of three fundamental kinds of seismic waves: Primary (P = pressure) waves; Secondary (S = shear); and Surface waves.
Short video segment of primary (pressure) wave being generated in and traveling across a slinky.
Short video segment showing shear (secondary) wave being generated in and traveling across a slinky.