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Plate Tectonics  (Modern World)


Spin and Rotate the Virtual Globe

(to spin globe, hold mouse-button down and drag mouse up or down across globe)

(c) PALEOMAP Project, 2003

(Read the explanation below, while you wait for the animation to load.)

You can interactively manipulate and rotate this paleo-globe, and view the Earth from the North Pole to the South Pole, and from the eastern edge of Asia to the western edge of North America. This globe, with the oceans removed, clearly shows the mid-ocean ridges, trenches, and mountain ranges that form the boundaries of the Earth's plates. Earth's surface is divided into seven large plates and a similar number of smaller plates. Plate tectonics is the theory that describes how the Earth's plates have moved through time.  When plates converge they collide and a one plate dives back down into the Earth in a region called a subduction zone.  The surface extension of a subduction zone is a deep ocean trench and volcanic island arc (Kurile Islands) or mountain range (Andes mountains). Earthquakes and volcanoes occur in the vicinity of subduction zones.  When plates move apart, a crack or rift forms in the middle of the ocean.   This rift is sometimes also called the "mid-ocean ridge".  New ocean floor is produced at the mid-ocean ridge by a process called "sea floor spreading.

The colors represent the depth of the ocean (dark blue - deep oceans, light blue - very shallow seas). The color of the land areas represents elevation (green - lowlands, browns - highlands, and white - high mountains). This 3D topographic and bathymetric model is based primarily on the digital elevation information from Smith and Sandwell (1997), with additional digital elevation information for the Arctic Ocean from  Jakobsson et al. (2000), for Greenland without ice from Bamber et al. (2000), and for Antarctica without ice from the British Antarctic Survey (BEDMAP).

To interactively grab and rotate the globe, hold down mouse-button and drag mouse up and down across. Some interesting places to check out: the continents around the North Pole, Antarctica without ice, the spreading ridges and plateaus of the SE Indian Ocean, the volcanic islands and small rift basins of the southwest Pacific, the Himalayan mountain range and Tibetan plateau - among others!

A screen-sized version of this VR Globe is available on CD-ROM in both Quicktime and html (Java applet) format.   For more information see Teaching Materials. 

This page uses a java applet that displays a VR model. Visit FreedomVR at for more information about this applet.

(c) PALEOMAP Project, 2003. Thanks to WebDoGS by Paul Howell for inspiration.