Scientists measure plate tectonics using GPS satellites, and they use computer models that simulate the motions of Earth's tectonic plates to try to predict future plate movements. By using GPS satellites in tandem with GPS receivers on the ground, scientists measure the rate of movement of the Earth's crust.Continue Reading
Scientists first started using GPS satellites to measure plate tectonics in the 1980s. A magnitude-7.1 earthquake that hit San Francisco allowed scientists to measure the movements of GPS markers that were already in place along the San Andrea fault. This GPS data allowed scientists to determine the direction and pattern of the fault's movement.
The precision of GPS satellites gives scientists the means to measure multiple types of plate movements. Researchers install GPS receivers at certain monitoring points and collect data once every year or so, which allows them to measure the slow movement of plates between earthquakes. For the rapid seismic motion that occurs during and after an earthquake, scientists capture the movement using permanent GPS receivers that collect data at a rapid rate.
Scientists use computer models to research the way that the flow of the mantle beneath the earth's crust affects plate tectonics. These models simulate how the upper layers of the mantle push and pull the tectonic plates above them.Learn more about Plate Tectonics
If plate tectonics stopped, the continents would stay in place rather than moving slowly around the face of the earth. This would also result in a reduction in volcanic activity and earthquakes. Lower volcanic activity causes warmer surface temperatures because particles released by volcanoes have a cooling effect.Full Answer >
Plates move because of gravity, which is the main driving force behind plate tectonics. Another reason why plates move is due to convection.Full Answer >
Researcher Alfred Wegener developed the continental drift theory that led to the modern theory of plate tectonics. Because plate tectonics is still a theory, it is hypothesized and not officially discovered or proven.Full Answer >
Plate tectonics is the theory that explains the structure, composition and internal workings of the Earth on a worldwide scale, while continental drift refers to the theory that the continents all used to be connected in one megacontinent which scientists dub Pangaea. Both theories attempt to explain the movement of parts of the Earth's crust.Full Answer >