How Much Do You Know About Tectonic Plates?



By: Gavin Thagard

6 Min Quiz

Image: Antonio Zanghi / Moment / Getty Images

About This Quiz

If you are a science nerd, then surely you have come across the subject of tectonic plates when studying geology in school. After all, it's one of the most important components when it comes to the field of study. What do you really remember about tectonic plates from science class, though? Could you pass this quiz on it? Here's your chance to find out!

If you are studying the composition and processes of the earth, then it won't be long before you run across the theory of tectonic plates. The theory is crucial to how the earth has formed into what it is today particularly when it comes to continents and landforms. The world hasn't always looked this way, after all, and it won't look the same in millions of years, and that's all because of how tectonic plates operate. 

Do you recall how the process of tectonic plates works? Do you remember which plates are the largest or which ones formed the many landforms we see today? Can you recall the most important names who pushed the theory? 

If you are ready to reminisce on science class, get started with this quiz on tectonic plates and prove you're an expert on the subject! 

What is it called when continents gradually move across the earth?

The theory of continental drift was developed by analyzing the fossils of plants in Norway. Many of the fossils showed evidence of plants that could only grow in the tropics, which was strange considering Norway was near the Arctic.


Who developed the theory of continental drift?

A German researcher, Alfred Wegener dedicated his life to studying the polar environment. However, he's most associated with continental drift, a theory that the scientific community rejected until after his death.


What do you call two plates running into one another?

The Andes Mountains in South America were formed from a convergent boundary. Stretching the length of South America, these mountains make up the longest mountain range in the world.


What do tectonic plates rest on top of?

Magma can only be found below the earth's surface. Once magma reaches the surface level, it is known as lava, which is what flows from a volcano​.


What part of the earth are tectonic plates a part of?

The lithosphere is thinnest in the ocean, where it runs about 10 miles deep. On continents, the lithosphere is upward of 20 miles deep.


What happens when tectonic plates are pulled further into the earth by gravity?

The effects of gravity do not stop at the earth's surface. Instead, gravity pulls everything, including slabs of rock, as far into the earth as they will go.


What type of movement does subduction cause?

Slab pull is believed to be the main cause of tectonic plates shifting. The pull occurs because the dense plate can't hold up on top of the softer mantle beneath.


How are plate tectonics divided?

Another group of tectonic plates known as microplates form along the boundaries of larger plates. These plates develop from the spreading of ridges.


How many major plate tectonics are there?

There are many methods today used to determine the movement of tectonic plates. One of the main methods involves remote sensing satellite​ data.


What is the only major tectonic plate not named after a continent?

The Pacific Plate is currently shrinking, which means the Pacific Ocean is getting smaller. As it grows smaller, the Atlantic Ocean expands in size.


What is the largest tectonic plate named after a continent?

Obviously, the North American Plate consists of North America, but it also includes Greenland and part of Iceland. According to data, the plate moves a few centimeters per year.


Which of the following is the smallest of the major tectonic plates?

The South American Plate extends into the Atlantic Ocean where it meets the African Plate. At the point where the two plates meet, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge forms.


Which of these minor tectonic plates is located off the coast of South America?

The Nazca Plate is considered young compared to other tectonic plates. It formed when the Farallon Plate broke apart nearly 23 million years ago.


What is the largest of the minor tectonic plates?

The Somali Plate is moving away from the coast of Africa. As the course of the plate continues, it will break away from Africa after millions of years, forming a new continent.


What is it called when oceanic crust spreads along ridges?

Seafloor spreading occurs at different paces. Where seafloor spreading is slowest, tall underwater cliffs form.


What type of rock forms when magma comes through the earth's crust where tectonic plates drift apart?

There are hundreds of types of igneous rocks that form from magma. A few of the more common examples include tuff, granite and obsidian.


When two tectonic plates converge, where does the heavier plate go?

Rocks are liquified in the asthenosphere because of built-up​ heat and pressure. Strangely, the core, which is below the asthenosphere, is solid.


What is rising magma through the earth's mantle called?

Mantle plumes are a way of cooling off the interior of the earth. Though it's still up for debate, some scientists believe mantle plumes help cool all the way to the core of the earth.


Which type of boundary defines two plates that slide past one another?

Transform boundaries do not slide gracefully past one another. Instead, friction in the rock builds until it eventually gives and breaks apart.


Which type of fault describes the hanging wall moving downward against the footwall?

Normal faults eventually spread apart forming valleys, known as grabens, inside the fault. Currently, the African Plate is splitting in such a way that it will form many of these grabens.


What do you call a hanging wall that rises against the footwall?

Faults can form visible cliffs or sloops on the earth's surface. In reverse faults, these are seen where two plates collide, pushing the hanging wall upward.


What type of rock makes up the oceanic crust?

Mars contains a shield volcano formed from basaltic lava known as Olympus Mons. It is the largest volcano discovered so far in our solar system.


What do you call rock composition that makes up the continental crust?

Sial comes from the words "silicate" and "aluminum." The name is derived from these words because they are the most common minerals in the continental crust.


Which of the following elements is one of the main components of sima?

Sima is composed of the minerals that make up the oceanic crust. Sima is thinner but denser than continental crust, or sial.


Tectonic plates shifting can cause what?

The Valdivia earthquake in 1960 was the largest earthquake ever recorded. When it hit Chile, the earthquake measured at a magnitude of 9.5.


What is the name of the fault that separates the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate in California?

The San Andreas Fault is responsible for many of the earthquakes that occur in California. One of the most deadly earthquakes from the San Andreas Fault occurred in 1906 when nearly 3,000 people died.


What is the deepest part of the ocean?

The Mariana Trench contains the Challenger Deep, the deepest part of the ocean. It is measured at 36,000 feet below sea level.


Does the Pacific Plate go over or under the Mariana Plate?

The Mariana Plate is smushed between the Philippine Sea Plate and the Pacific Plate. Scientists believe it formed when the Philippine Sea Plate broke apart from the pressure of the Pacific Plate subducting underneath it.


Which plate was involved in forming Mount Everest?

Mount Everest stands at an elevation of over 29,000 feet. The mountain continues to grow each year by about a quarter of an inch.


Tectonic plates have formed a series of volcanoes around the Pacific Ocean known as what?

Around 90 percent of the earthquakes around the world occur in the Ring of Fire. The region also contains nearly 75 percent of the world's volcanoes, making it a deadly home for the inhabitants.


What can an earthquake launched by tectonic plates in the ocean cause?

Japan is an island nation that constantly deals with the threat of facing a tsunami. One tsunami in 2011 caused by the Tohoku earthquake killed over 15,000 people in the country.


Which plate merged with the Indian Plate millions of years ago?

The main reason the Australian Plate has merged with the Indian Plate is that the Indian Plate's progression northward has been halted by the Himalayas. This causes the Indian Plate to move much slower than the Australian Plate, which is pushing up against it.


What do you call a lake that forms where plates diverge?

The East African Rift is a continental rift located on a divergent plate boundary in Africa. The rift is responsible for forming the Rift Valley Lakes.


What is the largest freshwater rift lake in the world by volume?

Nearly one-fifth of all fresh water in the world is located in Lake Baikal. That water fills the lake to a depth of 1,600 meters.


Which plate is moving away from the African Plate to form the Red Sea?

The Red Sea famously runs into the Suez Canal. The canal connects Europe and the Mediterranean to the Arabian Sea, which leads to Asia.


What is the name of the supercontinent that existed before the plates broke it apart?

One of the main sources of evidence for Pangaea's existence are fossils, which are now spread across multiple continents. For example, fossils of the reptile Mesosaurus have been found in both Brazil and West Africa.


What is the name of an earthquake that occurs inside a tectonic plate?

The United States' Midwest region contains an intraplate fault known as the New Madrid Fault Line. The fault was responsible for a series of earthquakes in 1811 and 1812.


What do you call the deformation of the lithosphere?

When it comes to important minerals and natural resources, you won't find a better source than the lithosphere. The lithosphere contains everything from coal to oil to metals.


Which of these terms refers to a vibration that travels through the earth during an earthquake?

Seismic waves are divided into two main categories. Body waves travel through the interior of the earth, where surface waves only move across the surface of the planet.


What is the study of the shape and features of land surfaces?

One important component studied in topography is elevation. Elevation determines the height of landforms in relation to sea level.


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